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Iran’s top military commander arrives in Russia for talks

Press TV – November 20, 2017

Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces Major General Mohammad Baqeri has arrived in the Russian Black Sea resort city of Sochi to attend a tripartite meeting with his Turkish and Russian counterparts.

The sides are scheduled to exchange views about ways to enhance trilateral defense cooperation on Wednesday.

The military brass of Iran, Turkey and Russia will also discuss the latest developments in Syria and trilateral cooperation on the fight against Daesh terrorist group.

The meeting will be held on the same day that Iranian, Russian and Turkish Presidents Hassan Rouhani, Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan plan to hold talks in Sochi about the Syrian crisis and ways to resolve it.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his Turkish and Russian counterparts Mevlut Cavusoglu and Sergei Lavrov, respectively, held preparatory talks in the southern Turkish city of Antalya on Sunday ahead of the Sochi summit.

Speaking after the meeting, the Iranian foreign minister criticized some countries such as Saudi Arabia for pursuing policies aimed at sowing discord among regional states.

“If they change their methods, they can also be involved in [promoting] regional peace instead of warmongering [policies],” Zarif said.

Iran, Russia and Turkey are acting as the guarantors of a ceasefire in Syria that came during the intra-Syrian talks brokered by the three countries in the Kazakh capital, Astana.

So far, seven rounds of the Astana talks have brought representatives from Syria’s warring sides to the negotiating table in a bid to end the foreign-backed militancy in the Arab country, which broke out in March 2011.

Syrian army soldiers, backed by pro-government fighters from popular defense groups, on Sunday fully liberated the strategic city of al-Bukamal in the country’s eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr and on the border with Iraq from the clutches of Daesh Takfiri terrorist group. The city was the extremist group’s last stronghold in the Arab country.

November 20, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

Russia, Turkey, Iran meeting to discuss Syria strategy

By M.K. Bhadrakumar | Asia Times | November 17, 2017

In a historic development, Russian President Vladimir Putin will be hosting his Turkish and Iranian counterparts – Recep Erdogan and Hassan Rouhani – at a trilateral summit on November 22 in Sochi.

Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reported that the meeting, the first of its kind between the three countries, will focus on Syria and the overall situation in the Middle East. Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdağ said the leaders “will handle Astana [peace talks in the capital of Kazakhstan earlier this year] and the political transition process in Syria. They will make important evaluations.” This comes as an unexpected development but is not surprising. Simply put, the three countries share a profound sense of disquiet over Washington’s regional strategies and sense that an inflection point is being reached.

There has been some abrasive behavior by the US on the regional chessboard over the past week or two. For example, US Defence Secretary James Mattis disclosed on November 13 that his country’s military presence in Syria will continue even after ISIS is defeated. Russia promptly challenged the legitimacy of the US presence under international law. Russia, Turkey and Iran are opposed to a continued US presence in Syria. Turkey is particularly worried that a long-term alliance between the US and the Syrian Kurdish militia will complicate its own problem of Kurdish separatism.

Meanwhile, unnamed US State Department officials have claimed that Russia has assured the US that the Iranian militia and Hezbollah will leave Syria. Moscow then had to issue a denial through Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Linked to this is the Israeli demand that a buffer zone be created in the Golan Heights from which the Iranian militia or Hezbollah be excluded.

The US, meanwhile, has once again raked up the issue of the fate of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, insisting that he cannot be part of any transition or elected government. The US has also questioned the raison d’etre of the Astana talks (involving Russia, Turkey and Iran) and insists that the focus should shift back to the Geneva process under UN supervision.

Ironically, it was when the Geneva process began meandering that Russia got Turkey and Iran over to Astana to painstakingly iron out their differences and work out a ceasefire in stages, and thereafter establish de-escalation zones to bring the war to an end.

The US feels excluded from the major achievements made in Astana to end the bloodshed in Syria. However, Washington was always welcome to join the process but chose to abstain. Washington has ruffled Russia’s feathers and Moscow has threatened to expose the US’s alleged covert dealings with ISIS. Unsurprisingly, Russian politicians have threatened to raise the matter at the UN.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, the Russian Defence Ministry openly alleged that the US military is impeding Russian air attacks on ISIS targets on the Syrian-Iraqi border and is indirectly enabling the terrorists to regroup. The Pentagon called it a Russian “lie.” At any rate, the very next day, six Russian Tupolov long-range bombers flew from bases in Russia via Iranian and Iraqi airspace to vanquish those ISIS targets in a massive air strike.

The US military is maneuvering on the Iraq-Syria border to bring the region under its control so that it will be in a position to create new facts on the ground and block a land route from Iran leading to the Levant.
Notably, the strong alliance with the Kurdish militia gives the US the wherewithal to influence events in Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria. Indeed, oil and oil pipelines form an important vector of the geopolitics, too.

The “dogfight under a carpet” in US politics is complicating matters for Moscow. The Russians don’t have an interlocutor in Washington – something they never lacked even in the darkest periods of the Cold War.
Suffice to say, the latest developments in Lebanon have created dark forebodings of a regional war. Unsurprisingly, Russia, Turkey and Iran must be feeling the need to coordinate their efforts to push back at the US.

Both Turkey and Iran estimate that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s seemingly irrational behavior has a pattern. They suspect a script was worked out by Israel and the Trump administration with the objective of creating quagmires for Ankara and Tehran.

Earlier this week, Erdogan openly ridiculed the crown prince from an Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) platform and questioned whether he was qualified to differentiate “moderate Islam” from the extremist form. The simmering discord between the erstwhile Caliph and the Custodian of the Holy Places who succeeded him (on the debris of the Ottoman Empire) surged into view. Equally, Iran can see that the Saudis are encouraging Israel to attack Lebanon. In fact, Rouhani openly spoke about it on Wednesday.

The trilateral summit in Sochi next week is most likely Erdogan’s idea. He traveled to Sochi to meet Putin on Monday en route to Kuwait and Qatar. While in Doha, Erdogan reaffirmed Turkey’s military support to the emir.

Indeed, all this is playing out against the backdrop of the snowballing crises in the US’s bilateral relations with Russia, Turkey and Iran.

November 17, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Wars for Israel | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Washington’s Wonderful World of Corruption

By Philip Giraldi • Unz Review • November 7, 2017

One of the interesting side benefits, if one might call it that, of the everlasting investigation into Russiagate is the window provided on the extreme corruption of U.S. politicians and government officials. It has become evident that anyone can seemingly buy political and media support for nearly anything as long as enough money is put on the table. And worse, the sell-out has clearly been going on for some time, with the disease disproportionately afflicting former senior officials that have been engaged in national security.

If this corruption from the top down does not constitute a crisis that directly challenges the credibility of the entire U.S. political system, it is not clear what more would be needed to make the case. And it was not carried out by the Russians or anyone else seeking to bring down our so-called democracy. We Americans appear to have done it all to ourselves through inexplicable tolerance for a combination of greed and fundamental dishonesty on the part of our elected and appointed government officials.

A recent story that received remarkably little play in the media provides some insight into how it all works, driven by a money-fueled corruption that sells out American interests by those who once had sworn to protect them.

The several articles that covered the story described how some prominent figures in the U.S. national security community actively sought a Turkish government sourced contract to use their resources to bring about the character assassination and eventual extradition of American green card holder Fetullah Gülen from Pennsylvania. Gülen is, to be sure, a controversial figure who is the founder in his native Turkey of a movement called Hizmet, which is in turn linked to hundreds of schools worldwide that claim to teach a curriculum that fuses a moderate and tolerant form of Islam with high academic achievement in traditional courses of study, including the sciences.

Critics of Gülen claim that his movement is a cult and that the schools are used to brainwash students, who continue to do Hizmet’s bidding after they obtain positions in government, the military or within the educational system. The current president of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan blames Gülen for the attempted coup that took place last July and has sought his extradition. Erdogan has a strong motive for finding a scapegoat as he has sought to aggrandize his power in the wake of the coup, which has resulted in the imprisonment of tens of thousands of Turks while hundreds of thousands more have lost their jobs.

That Gülen is actually guilty of initiating the coup attempt has not been demonstrated by any reasonable standard. An extradition request submitted to the U.S. government by Ankara was reported to be not very convincing. There have also been suggestions, by me among others, that Erdogan knew about the coup in advance and let it happen so he could crackdown on opponents, which is certainly what has happened. Erdogan has, since the coup, frequently expressed his frustration with the U.S. Department of Justice extradition process, claiming that he has been betrayed by Washington. He has more generally speaking behaved like a madman, antagonizing all his former friends in Europe while also unnecessarily complicating relations with the United States over the two countries’ roles in Syria.

Enter former General Michael Flynn and former Bill Clinton CIA Director James Woolsey, both of whom were national security advisers to candidate Donald Trump during his campaign when they competed for contracts with Turkish businessmen linked to the Erdogan government to discredit Gülen and possibly even enable his abduction and illegal transfer to Turkey. If, as a consequence of their labors, Gülen were to be somehow returned home he would potentially be tried on treason charges, which might in the near future carry the death penalty in Turkey.

Both Flynn and Woolsey are highly controversial figures. Woolsey, in spite of having no intelligence experience, was notoriously appointed CIA Director by Bill Clinton to reward the neoconservatives for their support of his candidacy. But Woolsey never met privately with the president during his two years in office. He is regarded as an ardent neocon and Islamophobe connected to the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the AIPAC affiliated Washington Institute for Near East Policy. I once debated him on NPR where he asserted that Israel does not spy on the United States, a delusional viewpoint to be sure. Former CIA Senior analyst Mel Goodman, recalling Woolsey’s tenure at the Agency, commented in 2003 that “[he] was a disaster as CIA director in the 90s and is now running around this country calling for a World War IV to deal with the Islamic problem. This is a dangerous individual…”

Flynn, is, of course, better known, and not for any good qualities that he might possess. He is, like Woolsey, an ardent hawk on Iran and other related issues but is also ready to make a buck through his company The Flynn Intel Group, where Woolsey served as an unpaid adviser. In the summer of 2016 Flynn had obtained a three-month contract for $530,000 to “research” Gülen and produce a short documentary film discrediting him, an arrangement that should have been reported under the Foreign Agents Registration Act of 1938, but the big prize was a possible contract in the millions of dollars to create a negative narrative on the Hizmet founder and put pressure on the U.S. government to bring about his extradition.

Woolsey and Flynn, both Trump advisers at the time, found themselves in competition for the money. Flynn had a New York meeting at the Essex House with the businessmen accompanied by the Turkish Foreign and Energy Ministers as well as Erdogan’s son-in-law on September 19th 2017 where, inter alia, the possibility of kidnapping Gülen and flying him to Turkey was discussed. Flynn has denied that the possibility of kidnapping was ever raised, but Woolsey, who was at the meeting for a brief time, insists that “whisking away” Gülen in the dead of night was on the agenda, though he concedes that the discussion was “hypothetical.”

On the next day, Woolsey and his wife met separately with the same two Turkish businessmen at the Peninsula Hotel in New York City and discussed with them a more general but broadly based $10 million plan of their own that would combine lobbying with public relations to discredit Gülen both in the press and in congress. Woolsey stressed that he had the kind of contacts in government and the media to make the plan work.

Woolsey did not get the $10 million contract that he sought and Flynn’s well-remunerated work for Turkey reportedly consisted of some research, a short documentary that may or may not have been produced, and a November op-ed in The Hill by Flynn that denounced Gülen as a “radical Islamist… who portrays himself as a moderate.”

But the real story about Flynn and Woolsey is the fashion in which senior ex-government employees shamelessly exploit their status to turn money from any and all comers without any regard for either the long- or short- term consequences of what they are doing. The guilt or innocence of Fetullah Gülen was never an issue for them, nor the reputation of the United States judiciary in a case which has all the hallmarks of a political witch hunt. And if a kidnapping actually was contemplated, it begs one to pause and consider what kind of people are in power in this country.

Neither Flynn nor Woolsey ever considered that their working as presidential campaign advisers while simultaneously getting embroiled in an acrimonious political dispute involving a major ally just might be seen as a serious conflict of interest, even if it was technically not-illegal. All that motivated them was the desire to exploit a situation that they cared not at all about for profit to themselves.

No one expects top rank ex-officials to retire from the world, but out of respect for their former positions, they should retain at least a modicum of decency. This is lacking across the board from the Clintons on down to the Flynns and Woolseys as Americans apparently now expect less and less from their elected officials and have even ceased to demand minimal ethical standards.

November 7, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Deception, Fake News, Timeless or most popular | , | 2 Comments

US attempt to fuel Iraq-Iran rift backfires

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | October 26, 2017

The US project to create a rift between Iraq and Iran backfired just a couple of days of its launch from Riyadh on October 22 by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Washington effectively sought out Saudi Arabia to project itself as counterweight to Iran in the Iraqi theatre, predicated on the presumption that Riyadh’s offer to extend funding to ‘rebuild’ post-ISIS Iraq will be found irresistible by Baghdad. Washington fancied that Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi is looking for ways to push back at Tehran, as his dependency on Iran’s military support is diminishing with the defeat of ISIS.

Tillerson travelled to Riyadh over the weekend to be present as a special guest at the first inaugural meeting of the so-called Saudi Arabia-Iraq Coordination Council. Things seemed to go well and Tillerson’s remarks to the media exuded optimism. At a press conference in Riyadh, he said that the Saudi largesse will “strengthen Iraq as an independent and whole country… (and) this will be in some ways counter some of the unproductive influences of Iran inside of Iraq.” Tillerson then came to the point:

  • Certainly, Iranian militias that are in Iraq, now that the fight against Daesh and ISIS is coming to a close, those militias need to go home. Any foreign fighters in Iraq need to go home and allow the Iraqi people to regain control of areas that had been overtaken by ISIS and Daesh that have now been liberated, allow the Iraqi people to rebuild their lives with the help of their neighbors. And I think this agreement that has been put in place between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and Iraq is a crucial element to assisting the Iraqi people to do that. (Transcript)

The reference was to the Shi’ite militia groups funded, trained and deployed by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps, which literally bore the brunt of the fight against the ISIS in the recent years. Washington is particularly incensed over the lead role by the Shi’ite paramilitary groups in seizing Kirkuk recently from the Kurdish Peshmerga who are US allies. (See my blog Kirkuk bells also toll for US strategy in Syria.)

Evidently, Tillerson crossed the red line. The point is, these Shi’ite groups, collectively known as Popular Mobilisation Forces and several tens of thousands strong, are probably going to be designated as part of the Iraqi armed forces. Abadi’s office in Baghdad came out in no time with a stinging rebuke – “No party has the right to interfere in Iraqi matters” – and called the Shi’ite paramilitary groups “patriots.” The next day, when Tillerson showed up in Baghdad for a meeting with Abadi, the latter was fairly explicit. Abadi said the Popular Mobilisation Forces form “part of the Iraqi institutions” and they will be the “hope of country and the region.” (Reuters )

Later, in an interview with the American press, Abadi retorted: “We would like to work with you (US)… But please don’t bring your trouble inside Iraq. You can sort it anywhere else.” Abadi then began suggesting a US troop withdrawal from Iraq. He said that US air power won’t be needed anymore and Iraq’s requirements will be henceforth on intelligence sharing and help to train Iraqi forces. The way things are shaping up between Washington and Tehran, continued US military presence in Iraq may become problematic in a near future.

Meanwhile, having gambled on the independence referendum only to lose oil-rich Kirkuk, Iraqi Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani is suing for ceasefire and talks with Baghdad. The US is urging Abadi to respond to Barzani’s overture and engage with him in discussions. The Trump administration has secured strong Congressional support for its demands on Abadi. Signaling the seriousness of the demands, On Wednesday, House Speaker Paul Ryan, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, and House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry issued the following statement to pressure Baghdad:

  • Ongoing clashes between forces aligned with the Iraqi government and Kurdistan Regional Government are undermining hard-fought gains in the fight against ISIS, and threatening to plunge Iraq into a new wave of sectarian violence. The bloodshed must stop immediately. We support a united Iraq under the federal government in Baghdad, and we support the Kurdistan Regional Government.
  • To that end, we welcome today’s reports that the Kurds are offering to suspend results of their recent referendum in return for a ceasefire and negotiations with the central government. Baghdad should accept this offer and enter into meaningful discussions that address long-term Kurdish concerns about autonomy, share of the national budget, and oil revenues. Meanwhile, it is critical that the Iraqi government heed Secretary Tillerson’s concern about the role and activities of Iranian-backed Shia militias. We are very concerned about Iranian involvement in recent operations. These forces have been responsible for horrible abuses, including the deaths of Americans. They have no place in a peaceful, united, and stable Iraq.

But Abadi is parrying. He visited Ankara on Wednesday to consult President Recep Erdogan. (Rudaw ) The latest reports suggest that the Iraqi forces with the support of the Shi’ite forces might go for the jugular veins of the Iraqi Kurds. Baghdad will want to drive home the advantage that the Kurds are not cohesive and are split 3-ways with the PUK (which was led by late Talabani) inclined to cooperate with Baghdad and Tehran, thereby isolating Barzani who is reduced now increasingly as a US-Israeli proxy. (Turkey has also become hostile toward Barzani following his push for the Kurdish independence referndum.)  The Russian news agency Sputnik reported today as ‘breaking news’ that  Iraqi troops and Shi’ite militias had been pulling heavy artillery and tanks close to Peshmerga positions near Zummar and shelling their positions. (Sputnik ) If a flare-up ensues in coming days, the US will be in a tight spot, apart from the breakdown of ties between Washington and Baghdad.

The US’ problem, quintessentially, is that its intentions are suspect in all three key regional capitals confronting the Kurdish question – Ankara, Baghdad, Tehran. At a recent meeting with US ambassador Douglas Sliman, Iraqi Vice-President Nouri al-Maliki said with brutal frankness, “We will not allow the creation of a second Israel in northern Iraq.”

Last week’s events underscore three things. One, the US does not intend to end its military presence in Iraq (and Syria), although the pretext of the war against the ISIS is no longer there. Two, US is planning to turn Iraq into a major theatre of confrontation with Iran.

A US control of Iraq puts it in a position to pile pressure on Iran from different directions — interfering with Iranian supply routes to Syria and Lebanon; playing itself back to regain a role in the Syrian settlement; having a say in Iraq’s rising oil production and staging covert cross-border operations to destabilize the Iranian regime. Indeed, with the open-ended US military presence already in place in Afghanistan, the intention is to squash with a similar western neighbor under American tutelage.

Three, fundamentally, it becomes all too obvious that the US-Saudi alliance in regional politics is very much alive and kicking, and any reports to the contrary are greatly exaggerated. The US’ return to the centre stage in Iraq to challenge Iran’s regional influence will give much verve to the US alliance with Saudi Arabia.

Interestingly, the Saudi establishment daily Asharq Al-Awsat reported last week that the Pentagon plans to boost deployments to the Middle East specifically to counter Iran. The report cited General Joseph Votel, commander of the US Central Command, as saying, “The United States wants to help the Arab countries deal with Iranian threats. The Pentagon is working to achieve that desire and ensure its effective implementation. That includes the establishment of US military battalions sent as missions to the region and be designed specifically to provide advice and assistance.”

October 26, 2017 Posted by | Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kirkuk bell also tolls for US strategy in Syria

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | October 22, 2017

The rout of the Kurds in the northern Iraqi city of Kirkuk this week constitutes a major setback for the overall American strategies toward Iraq and Syria. The prospect of an unceremonious US retreat from Syria haunts the Trump administration in immediate terms, and it is all the more galling because Tehran is calibrating it.

Clearly, Iran has pushed the envelope, furious over US President Donald Trump’s provocative threats of sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC). Tehran had warned that US position in the entire Middle East will become increasingly untenable if Trump moved against the IRGC. The capture of Kirkuk by the Baghdad government was a de facto military operation by the Shi’ite militia known as the Hashd al-Shaabi, which was trained and equipped by the IRGC. The western reports suggest that the charismatic commander of the IRGC’s secretive Quds Force, General Qassem Soleimani personally masterminded the military operation – and even prepared the political ground for it.

The US had tried to prevail upon the Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi not to move against the Kurds who were its allies. Kirkuk is estimated to hold at least 8000 million barrels of subterranean oil. The oil revenue is critical for the survival of any independent Kurdish state. Evidently, Abadi didn’t listen due to the emergent threat posed by the Kurds’ recent independence referendum. Equally, Iran wanted to finish off the spectre of an independent Kurdistan in the region spearheaded by Massoud Barzani (who enjoys the backing of US and Israel.)

Indeed, the defeat in Kirkuk destroys the Iraqi Kurds’ dream of an independent state and derails the longstanding US-Israeli project to create a base with strategic location. Equally, the liberation of Kirkuk, which is populated by the Kurds, Arabs and Turkmen by the Iran-supported Shi’te militia highlights the strategic convergence between Baghdad, Tehran and Ankara in preventing the creation of an independent Kurdistan in the region.

However, the defeat of Barzani in Kirkuk has far wider ramifications – for Iraq as well as the Syrian conflict, apart from the US’ influence in the Middle East as a whole. At its most obvious level, Iran is thwarting the US plans to balkanize Iraq. Iraq’s unity is no longer under serious threat. Control of the vast oil reserves in Kirkuk will also bolster the Iraqi economy. Baghdad can be expected to reassert its authority over the country. The federal government has taken over the border crossings with Turkey and Syria.

The US attempt in the coming period will be to woo Abadi and encourage him to whittle down Iran’s influence in Iraq. The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson arrived in Riyadh on Saturday on a hastily arranged trip with the hope of getting Saudi King Salman to take a hand in persuading Abadi to keep Tehran’s influence on Iraq at bay and to mediate between Abadi and Barzani. The US and Saudi Arabia’s best hope lies in creating differences between Baghdad and Tehran by leveraging Abadi. But the chances of such a ploy working seem remote.

The fact that the US watched the defeat of the Kurds in Kirkuk passively tarnishes the overall American image, especially among Syrian Kurds. This casts shadows on the Syrian situation. The US has been routing the military supplies for Syrian Kurds in Raqqa via Erbil, Massoud’s stronghold (in the face of Turkey’s virulent opposition.) This supply route is no longer under Barzani’s control and the disruption will affect the US’ operations in Raqqa. The US-led Syrian Kurdish militia claims to have liberated Raqqa, but a real consolidation needs the decimation of the residual ISIS fighters present in the region and it may take months.

More importantly, a ‘trust deficit’ between Syrian Kurds and Washington at this juncture will be calamitous. Raqqa is Arab territory and the Kurdish militia’s supply lines are already overstretched. The disruption in American supplies means that it may now be a mater of time before Syrian Kurds seek some modus vivendi with the Syrian regime. If American military supplies dry up, Syrian Kurds will also come under pressure from Turkey in the swathe of northern Syria bordering Turkey, which form their traditional homelands. Turkey never liked a Kurdish entity taking shape across their border.

Interestingly, the commander of the Syrian Kurdish militia Sipan Hamo visited Moscow last weekend. The Russians indeed find themselves in an enviable position to drive a hard bargain over the Kurds’ sorrows. Russia is in a unique position to mediate between Syrian Kurds on one side and Ankara and Damascus on the other. But then, what is it that the Kurds can offer Russia in return? Last Thursday, Rosneft signed a big oil deal with Barzani’s government in northern Iraq. To be sure, the old Kurdish saying has some merit – ‘The Kurds have no friends but the mountains.’ (Guardian )

The main impact of last week’s dramatic events is that the US now has no conceivable reason to continue with a military intervention in eastern Syria. The likelihood is that Syrian Kurds will sooner or later hand over Raqqa also to the government forces. Clearly, the Syrian regime’s march to victory is from now onward relentless and irreversible. That is to say, the best-laid plans of the US and its regional allies to balkanize Syria have also gone awry.

Maybe, there will be a federal system in future Iraq and Syria. But last week’s events have ensured that the two countries’ territorial unity and integrity will no longer be under serious threat. Of course, that has also been at the core of the Iranian strategy.

October 22, 2017 Posted by | Wars for Israel | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Syrian endgame is nigh as rival factions look to cut deals

Three cities – Deir ez-Zour, al-Raqqa, and Idlib – will define how the country shapes up post-ISIS, as key players edge towards under-the-table agreements

By Sami Moubayed | Asia Times | October 17, 2017

Over the weekend, Moscow hosted Sipan Hamo, commander of the powerful all-Kurdish Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), the last standing US-backed militia on the Syrian battlefield. It was the most senior visit by a Kurdish military official to Moscow since the Russian Army joined the Syrian War in 2015.

Hamo met with Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu and Chief-of-Staff Valeria Gerasimov to discuss the future of Deir ez-Zour and al-Raqqa, two cities along the Euphrates River which – at time of writing – appear to be in their final hours of control by Islamic State (ISIS).

At the same time, Turkish troops crossed the border into Syria, with the blessing of Russia and Iran, deploying in the northwest city of Idlib, which remains, for now, in the hands of Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS), an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist organization previously known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham, or Jabhat al-Nusra.

These three cities –Deir ez-Zour, al-Raqqa, and Idlib – will define what the Syrian endgame looks like. Invisible borders are being created around them, outlining each stakeholder’s share of the Syrian patchwork. Contrary to what many presume, very little fighting is now taking place on the streets of Syria, as under-the-table deals are being cut between traditional enemies who, until very recently, were at daggers drawn with each other.

Deir ez-Zour, the largest of these three contested cities, has been under brutal ISIS control since 2014. Government troops have been advancing on the oil-rich city, which lies east of the Euphrates, marching deep into territory once believed to be part of the country’s US/Kurdish fiefdom.

Opposition sources say government troops, with Russian air cover, will only be taking Deir ez-Zour City and not the entire province, arguing that everything around it, including farmland and oil wells, has been earmarked for the SDF. The exact parameters of these borders is what Hamo wanted to discuss in Moscow.

Reportedly, he pressed for a commitment from the Russians not to confront his troops in the Deir ez-Zour countryside, while promising to stop short of al-Sukhna, the last ISIS stronghold in the Homs Governorate, and leave the honors of its liberation to the Syrian and Russian Armies. On October 7, he and his men had stood by and watched government troops overrun ISIS strongholds in the city of al-Mayadeen, in the countryside of Deir ez-Zour — a job that until recently, would have been left to the SDF.

In exchange for such cooperation, the SDF is seeking Russian guarantees that the Turkish Army will not march on the Kurdish city of Afrin, west of the Euphrates River. Kurdish leaders are panicking after Turkish troops plunged into Idlib over the weekend, seemingly to implement part of the de-conflict zone agreement reached at the Astana ceasefire talks in May. Afrin lies within the Russian pocket of influence in Syria, and the Turks are trying to win control of the summit of Sheikh Mount Barakat, which overlooks it. A former radar post for the Syrian Army, it would give Erdogan’s forces a birds-eye view of Afrin. Moscow agreed to give Hamo the specific guarantee he asked for.

Meanwhile, the Turks are cutting their own deals in Idlib – with the militant jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham. Instead of bankrolling a new proxy army of Syrian recruits, or sending its own troops to battle, Ankara is trying to reach a political understanding with HTS, calling for its silent evacuation from Idlib and safe passage to the countryside of Deir ez-Zour.

On October 8, HTS militants escorted a Turkish reconnaissance unit into Idlib. This was followed by no fewer than three meetings between Turkish officials and HTS commanders, raising eyebrows among the Syrian Opposition. This is the very same group that the Turks have been mandated to crush, but which many believe they helped to create early in the Syrian conflict five years ago.

In exchange for safe exodus, Turkey wants HTS to withdraw quietly from Atme, north of Idlib and east of the Turkish border, through Darat Izzat (30 km northwest of Aleppo), all the way to Anadan, on the Aleppo-Gazientap International Highway. This would further secure the Turkish border from any Kurdish advancements, and create a new buffer zone in which to relocate Syrian refugees living in Turkey since 2011. It would also enlarge Turkey’s zone of influence in Syria, which already includes the two border cities of Jarablus and Azaz, and that of al-Bab, 40km northeast of Aleppo.

Similar secret deals are also being cut between the SDF and ISIS in al-Raqqa, where the jihadists have been on the defensive since the Kurdish campaign started last June.

The city has been subjected to a horrific aerial bombardment by the US-led Coalition, believed to be one of the worst in modern history. Within days, however, al-Raqqa will be liberated fully from ISIS control, bringing an end, once and for all, to the myth of the “capital” of the Islamic State.

Only 120 fighters are left in al-Raqqa, stranded in a pass of just 1.5 km, and all of them are foreign fighters. All local Syrian ISIS fighters were evacuated through secret agreement with the SDF on the night of October 6-7, disguised as ordinary civilians. The agreement with ISIS basically allows local Syrians to jump ship, distancing themselves from the terror group that captured their hearts and minds back in 2014. In exchange for handing back al-Raqqa, these Syrian fighters might even get a free pass to return to ordinary life, if they help eliminate what remains of foreign fighters inside still inside the city.

October 17, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | Leave a comment

The moment of truth is coming for Trump’s Iran strategy

By M.K. Bhadrakumar | Asia Times | October 16, 2017

Diplomacy is a juggling act, an endless struggle to keep all the balls in the air. There are times when dropping one ball to keep the others going may seem like the prudent thing to do – and at other times letting them all drop and starting over again makes more sense. The United States faces this predicament in the Middle East. Perhaps there are too many balls in the air, when the focus should be on the few that are really important.

While everyone was focused on what US President Donald Trump had to say on Friday regarding the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (known as the Iran deal), what got overlooked is that he also unveiled a brave new Iran strategy for the post-Islamic State era.

In a rare gesture, King Salman called Trump on Saturday to express his delight over the latter’s resolute strategy and aggressive approach toward Iran. Salman welcomed Trump’s leadership role in the Middle East in recognizing the magnitude of the “challenges and threats” posed by Iran and stressed the need for “concerted efforts.”

Trump responded warmly, appreciating Salman’s support and expressing keenness to work together on issues relating to world peace and security and also enhancing the countries’ bilateral ties.

Trump’s Iran strategy is a dream project for Saudi Arabia and the UAE – and for Israel. It may seem like a relaunch of the old enterprise to contain Iran, built around an alliance system involving the US and its regional allies. But the circumstances today are different. The US and its allies stare at defeat in the Syrian conflict and are circling their wagons to stave off an ignominious rout with long-term consequences. Faced with Iran’s surge, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are willing to proclaim a convergence of interests with Israel.

Clearly, Moscow surmising that the US-Saudi strategic relationship has weakened is premature. The axis with Iran is the only show in town for Russia on the Middle Eastern chessboard – whether or not it is Moscow’s preferred choice. President Vladimir Putin is heading for Tehran on November 1.

The Iran deal will not be in jeopardy in the foreseeable future and, arguably, Tehran’s dependence on Moscow on that front is not critical. On the other hand, Britain, France and Germany have drawn together and mooted a proposal that their heads of government articulated in an extraordinary joint declaration on Friday to “constructively engage” with Iran to address their shared concerns over its regional policies.

Tehran will be open to a constructive engagement with Western powers to comprehensively address mutual security concerns, although how enthusiastic the Trump administration will be about such a process remains to be seen. If Europe’s engagement with Iran over issues of regional security and stability gains traction, the country’s integration will take a great leap forward, and that is something Tehran desires.

Enter Turkey. The Turkish deployment to Idlib province in northern Syria was seen as a move toward implementation of the Astana accord on setting up a “de-escalation” zone in that region with tacit Russian and Iranian backing. But Turkey’s number one priority appears to be to pre-empt a westward expansion by Syrian Kurds toward the coastal region of Latakia to establish a contiguous “homeland.”

Turkey hopes to outflank the Kurds and thereafter push back at their canton in Afrin. Turkey seems to be planning a prolonged military presence in northern Syria. This must be causing disquiet in Moscow. The exceptionally strong denunciation by Damascus on Saturday of the Turkish deployment to Idlib must have been made with Moscow’s approval.

However, what Moscow cannot take for granted is the deep chill in Turkish-American relations. Much depends on the new phase of the Syrian conflict beginning now, after the defeat of ISIS in its capital Raqqa and the capture by Syrian government forces (and allied militia with Russian airpower) of Mayadin on the Euphrates River (adjacent to the rich oil fields of al-Omar in Deir al-Zour province.)

The US faces a Hobson’s choice. It has the option of extricating itself from the Syrian conflict at this stage, claiming victory in the defeat of ISIS in Raqqa. But this would mean abandoning its Kurdish allies to their fate. Of course, if the US exercises this option, it paves the way for mending relations with Turkey.

But then, the flip side is that it also means a seamless expansion of Iranian influence in both Iraq and Syria and a possible Iranian presence in the Eastern Mediterranean. That, of course, would make a mockery of the tough strategy announced by Trump to counter Iran’s regional policies.

On the contrary, if the US intends to play a greater role in Syria following the capture of Raqqa (such as blocking Iran’s land route to Syria), it would require substantial, open-ended troop deployment to delay and harass the expansion of Iranian influence. Clearly, this is what the US’s regional allies – Israel, Saudi Arabia and the UAE – are hoping for and what Trump’s new Iran strategy promises to do.

However, a continued US military presence means ongoing dependence on the Kurdish militia. This could spell doom for US-Turkey relations and even prompt Ankara to build an alliance with Russia and Iran – a shared agenda to create conditions on the ground that force the US at some point to cut its losses and withdraw from Syria, as happened, for example, in Lebanon in 1983.

Trump’s Iran strategy infinitely complicates the geopolitical repositioning of the US in the post-ISIS era. He added one more ball at a juncture when his juggling act was already looking improbable.

October 16, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Middle East Pivot: Erdoğan’s Turkey Seven Deadly Sins

By James Petras | The Peoples Voice | October 14, 2017

Introduction

Multiple wars ravage the Middle East. Turkey has inserted itself into the middle of most of these regional conflicts and ended up a loser.

Under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkey has intervened and formed alliances with a rogue’s gallery of imperial warlords, terrorists-mercenaries, Zionist expansionists, feudal potentates and obscure tribal chiefs, with disastrous economic, political and military consequences for the Turkish nation. In this paper we will discuss Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies and behavior over the past decade. We will conclude with lessons for middle range powers, which might help in future decisions.

President Erdogan’s Domestic Disasters

Throughout the early decade of the 21st century, Erdoğan made a strategic alliance with an influential semi-clandestine organization led by a cult-leading cleric, Fethullah Gülen, who was conveniently self-exiled in the US and under the protection of the US intelligence apparatus. This marriage of convenience was formed in order to weaken the leftist, secular and Ataturk nationalist influenced opposition. Armed with the Gülenists’ treasure trove of forged documents, Erdoğan purged the military of its Ataturk nationalist leadership. He proceeded to marginalize the secular Republican Party and repressed leftist trade union, social movements and prominent academics, journalists, writers and student activists. With support from the Gülenists movement, ‘Hizmet’, Erdoğan celebrated his successes and won multiple election and re-election victories!

Initially, Erdoğan failed to recognize that the Gülenists/Hizmet operated as a subversive political organization, which permeated the state apparatus through a dense network of bureaucratic, military, judicial, police, and civil society organizations, with ties to the US military/CIA and friendly relations with Israeli policy makers.

By 2013, Erdoğan felt intense pressure from the Gülenists/Hizmet which sought to discredit and oust his regime by revealing multi-million dollar corrupt practices involving him and his family in a ‘Turquoise Color Revolution’ – remake of other ‘regime changes’.

Having discovered his internal vulnerability, Erdoğan moved to curtail the power and reach of the Gülenists/Hizmet controlled media. He was not yet prepared to deal with the immense scope and depth of the elite links to Gülenists/Hizmet. A Gülenists-led military coup was launched in July 2016, with the tacit support of the US military stationed in Turkey. This was foiled by a major popular mobilization with the support of the armed forces.

Erdoğan then moved to thoroughly purge the followers of Hizmet from the military, public administration, schools, business, the press and public and private institutions. He extended his purge to include secular and nationalist political leaders who had always opposed the Gülenists and their attempted coup d’état.

As a result of the coup attempt and the subsequent purge, Erdoğan weakened and fractured every aspect of the state and civil society. Erdoğan ended up securing control of a weakened state with a degraded business, educational and cultural world.

The Gülenists coup was authored and led by its supremo Fethullah Gülen, ensconced in his ‘secret’ private estate in the United States. Clearly the US was implicated in the coup and they rejected Erdoğan’s demands to extradite him.

Erdoğan’s subservience to the US/NATO leadership has undermined his attempts to strike at the roots of the coup and its internal and external power structure. The US/NATO military bases still operate in Turkey and retain influence over its military.

In the aftermath of the coup, the decline of Gülenist influence in the economy contributed to economic reversals in investments and growth. The purge of the military and civil society reduced Turkey’s military preparedness and alienated the democratic electorate. Erdoğan had already nearly lost his bid to the presidency after his earlier purges in 2014.

Erdoğan’s Foreign Policy Disasters

Perversity is when a ruler weakens its military and represses its citizens and launches a series of risky foreign adventures: This is exactly what Erdoğan has done over the past several years.

First Erdoğan backed a terrorist uprising in Syria, providing arms, recruiting overseas ‘volunteers’ and providing them with unrestricted passage across the Turkish border. Many of the terrorists proceeded to join forces with Syrian, Iraqi and Turkish Kurds in establishing military bases on Ankara’s borders.

Secondly, Erdoğan ran a scurrilous electoral campaign among the millions of ethnic Turks living in Germany – violating that powerful nation’s sovereignty. As a result, Erdoğan increased tensions and animosity with what had been its closest ally in its quest for EU membership – effectively terminating the process.

Thirdly, Erdoğan backed NATO’s invasion and bombing of Libya, killing President Gadhafi, who had been an independent voice, capable of serving as a possible ally against imperial intervention in North Africa.

Fourthly, Erdoğan backed the brief government of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood after its electoral victory in 2012 following the ‘Arab Spring’ uprising in Egypt of 2011. He backed a formula similar to his own Turkish policy of excluding the secular, democratic opposition. This led to a bloody US-backed military coup led by General Abdel Sisi in July 2013 – a lesson not lost on Erdoğan.

Fifth, Erdoğan’s de facto friendly relations with Israel – despite verbal criticism – in the face of Tel Aviv’s assassination of nine non-violent Turkish protestors trying to break the starvation blockade of Gaza – undermined relations with the pro-Palestine Arab world and nationalists in Turkey.

Sixth, Erdoğan developed lucrative ties with Iraqi Kurd dictator-warlord, Masoud Barzani, facilitating the flow of oil to Israel. Erdoğan’s own illicit oil deals with Barzani strengthened the cause of Kurdish separatism and exposed the widespread corruption of Erdoğan’s family dealings.

Seventh, Erdoğan provoked military tensions with Russia by shooting down a warplane in Syria. This led to an economic boycott, which reduced export earnings, devastated the tourism sector and added Moscow to his list of adversaries, (Iraq, Syria, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, US, Germany, Hezbollah and Iran).

Eighth, Erdoğan backed the tiny oil-state of Qatar, sending supplies and soldiers to oppose a threat from Saudi Arabia, the other royal oil statelets and Egypt, US allies and followers.

Despite his many disastrous domestic and foreign policies, Erdoğan learned nothing and forgot nothing. When the Israelis backed the Iraqi Kurds in organizing an independence ‘referendum’ aiming to ultimately annex the rich oil fields of Northern Iraq, Erdoğan took no action despite this threat to Turkish national security. He merely made verbal threats to cut off the Kurd’s access to Ankara’s oil pipelines. He took no concrete steps. Erdoğan preferred to pocket transit taxes from the oil, antagonizing Iraq and Syria and strengthening the links between Kurdish Iraq and its secessionist counterparts in Syria and Turkey.

Because of Erdoğan’s failure to close down the US military base following its support of the Gülenist-led coup, the Turkish army is still heavily under US influence, opening the possibility of another uprising.

Erdoğan’s lip-service to ‘nationalism’ has served mainly as a political tool to repress domestic democratic political parties and trade unions and the Kurdish and Alevi communities.

Erdoğan’s initial support and subsequent opposition to the jihadi terrorist groups seeking to oust the secular-nationalist government in Damascus has caused ‘blowback’ – with ISIS terrorist cells bombing civilian targets Istanbul and Ankara with mass casualties.

Conclusion

Erdoğan’s unprincipled, opportunistic and pro-imperialist NATO alliance demonstrates the inability of an aspiring regional power to find a niche in the US Empire.

Erdoğan believed that being a loyal ‘ally’ of the US would protect Turkey from a coup d’état. He failed to realize that he had become a disposable pawn in US plans to install more servile rulers (like the Gülenists) in the Middle East.

Erdoğan’s believed that Turkey’s collaboration with the US to overthrow Syria’s President Bashar Assad would lead to a successful territorial grab of Northern Syria: instead Erdoğan ended up serving the US-backed Syrian Kurds tied to the Turkish Kurds . By working to break up Syria and destroy its state and government, Erdoğan strengthened Kurdish cross border expansionism.

Erdoğan failed to recognize the most basic rule of imperial policy: There are no permanent allies there are only permanent interests. Erdoğan thought Turkey would be ‘rewarded’ by acting as a US surrogate with a share of power, wealth and territory in the Middle East. Instead, as a ‘normal’ imperial power, the US used Turkey when it was convenient and would then dispose of Erdoğan – like a used condom.

Anti-imperialism is not just an ideal and moral/ethical principle – it is a realistic approach to safeguarding sovereignty, democratic politics and meaningful alliances.

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James Petras latest book is The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the Middle East claritypress@usa.net. James Petras is a Bartle Professor (Emeritus) of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York.

October 14, 2017 Posted by | Corruption, Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , | Leave a comment

Syria demands ‘immediate, unconditional’ pullout of Turkish troops from Idlib

Press TV – October 14, 2017

The Syrian government has strongly denounced an incursion of Turkish military forces into the country’s militant-held northwestern province of Idlib, demanding “immediate and unconditional” withdrawal of Turkish troops from the war-ravaged Arab country.

“The Syrian Arab Republic condemns in the strongest terms the incursion of Turkish military units in[to] … Idlib province, which constitutes … blatant aggression against the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria and flagrant violation of international law,” an unnamed official source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Expatriates told Syria’s official news agency, SANA, on Saturday.

“The Syrian Arab Republic demands … immediate and unconditional withdrawal of Turkish troops from the Syrian territory,” the source added.

The source further described Ankara’s military incursion as an act of “aggression” which “the Turkish regime can’t justify in any way.”

He also dismissed Turkey’s attempts to link the move to the implementation of the Astana agreements with Iran and Russia on the creation of de-escalation zones in Syria, terming it a “departure” from the deal.

Late on Thursday, Turkey deployed a convoy of around 30 military vehicles to Idlib province.

The Turkish forces entered Syria near the Bab al-Hawa border crossing, and headed to Shaykh Barakat hilltop, which overlooks lands controlled by foreign-sponsored Takfiri militants as well as Afrin area held by US-backed militiamen from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Idlib and swaths of land in Syria’s northern and northwestern regions are largely controlled by members of Tahrir al-Sham militant group.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said his country’s military operations in Idlib are the follow-up of the Euphrates Shield operation in northern Syria, which Ankara launched in August last year without any authorization from Damascus.

Ankara said back then that the main objectives behind the operation were clearing Turkey’s southern border of the Daesh Takfiri terrorist group and stopping the YPG from gaining more sway there.

Ankara views the YPG as the Syrian branch of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) militant group, which has been fighting for an autonomous region inside Turkey since 1984.

October 14, 2017 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , | 4 Comments

The underlying reasons for Turkey’s disengagement from the US and the West

By Dmitry MININ | Strategic Culture Foundation | 12.10.2017

The Turkish media is reporting that a staffer at the American consulate general in Istanbul was recently arrested under the serious charge of attempting the “destruction of the constitutional order,” “espionage,” and seeking “to overthrow the government.”

To be specific, ties have been uncovered between the man under arrest and some prominent members of Fethullah Gülen’s movement (FETÖ), which is banned in Turkey. Previous accusations had been made against General Joseph Votel, the commander of US CENTCOM and an expert in covert operations, alleging that he had cooperated with the conspirators who attempted a military coup in Turkey in July 2016.

And this is only the tip of a very cold and growing iceberg that has gradually been disrupting the relationship between these formerly close allies – the US and Turkey. Not even President Erdoğan’s visit to the US this year could buck these trends.

Observing that relations between the two countries have been deteriorating for more than a decade, US columnists, for example – Tom Rogan of the Washington Examiner – reflexively sum it all up as evidence of the deleterious influence of Vladimir Putin. In his assessment of the most recent meeting between the Russian and Turkish presidents in Ankara, that journalist points to the fact that Recep Erdoğan called Vladimir Putin “my dear friend” and even “stroked his ego” by speaking to him – horror of horrors! – “in Russian,” as though that were a crime.

CNBC also notes that Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Vladimir Putin “share a general suspicion and mistrust of the US.” It seems, however, that the reasons for Turkey’s growing frustration with its efforts to cooperate with its Western partners, including the United States, run deeper. According to the Huffington Post, Ankara realized several years ago that neither the US nor influential NATO members such as Germany, France, and Britain take Turkey’s security concerns or economic interests seriously. As a result, Ankara decided to go it alone and began “wooing” Russia militarily and Iran economically.

The joint study produced not so long ago by the Turkish Foreign Ministry’s Center for Strategic Research and America’s CSIS, which reviews relations between Ankara and Washington, did not anticipate anything of this nature. The “Arab Spring” had just begun, and few people correctly surmised how that would unfold. Moreover, the study proclaimed that the two countries’ “partnership has recently been enhanced by overlapping perspectives on the unprecedented transformation sweeping the Middle East.” But nothing quite worked out that way.

At that time the foundations for the strategic alliance between the US and Turkey were seen as: close cooperation on issues related to the “Arab spring”; a Turkish role in the NATO mission in Afghanistan; Turkey’s decision to join the NATO missile-defense program; and American assistance with Turkey’s military operations against the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

All these elements of their “bilateral rapport” have now turned into factors of their alienation. For example, the Turkish government considers the US government to be fully to blame for the failure of the “Arab spring,” a stance that it takes, apparently, in part in order to sidestep criticism from its own citizens. In any event, there is now no serious cooperation between Ankara and Washington to speak of. Each acts at its own risk and peril. Turkey’s presence in Afghanistan was long ago reduced to a purely symbolic role. And Turkey’s potential purchase of the Russian S-400 system is indicative of more than merely Ankara’s shift toward non-NATO weapons – it is a consequence of the country’s de facto refusal to participate in the NATO program to create a joint missile-defense shield. The S-400 is a missile interceptor that is quite powerful enough to allow Turkey to autonomously defend its own territory.

And there’s a good reason this deal is so irritating to Washington and Brussels. Due to the oscillations of American policy in Syria, the local branch of the PKK – the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) – has suddenly become the US administration’s main bedrock of support there. And this is perhaps the biggest irritant for the Turks. Suffice it to say that the Americans failed to meet their obligation to move the Kurds east of the Euphrates River and out of Manbij and Tabqa. The promise they made to Ankara to disarm the Kurds after the defeat of IS has also been unabashedly left hanging. The Turks deeply dislike being deceived. There is an ever-growing possibility that the US and Turkey, which are “NATO allies,” will become embroiled in an indirect armed conflict (!) through their “proxies” from the pro-Turkish FSA and the pro-American SDF.

Surveys conducted in Turkey by the American Pew Research Center show that 72% of Turks consider the US to be a threat to their country’s security. This is a world record, hands down. Few in Turkey were swayed by Washington’s refusal to formally support the referendum in Iraqi Kurdistan. They don’t think that the Iraqi Kurds would have risked a referendum at all without the Americans’ tacit consent. It is noteworthy that not only Erdoğan, but also pro-opposition Turkish nationalists are highly critical of the US Kurdish policy. They believe that by flirting with the Kurds, Washington is pursuing a long-term strategy to create a “second Israel” in the Middle East. They are particularly irritated by the inclusion of oil-rich Kirkuk – which they traditionally view as a Turkmen city – within the zone of the referendum.

One might ask: how enduring are these changes that have been seen in the relationship between the two countries and in the sentiments of the Turkish public? Might they be scrapped once the next generation of politicians gets into office? But it appears rather to be a manifestation of deep-seated patterns of behavior. The post-war threats to Turkey’s security that at one time prompted its close integration with Western institutions, including NATO, simply do not exist today. And they are unlikely to reemerge. The real dangers for Turkey all come from a completely different direction – the Middle East. And to a large extent those dangers can be blamed on the actions of Ankara’s Western allies, who, instead of providing security, have become agents of destabilization. Perhaps the discussion today should be more about finding protection from them, not about joint-defense operations with them.

In addition, by abandoning its dream once and for all of joining the European Union – and that issue can be seen as settled, once and for all, on both sides – Turkey must obviously give some thought to its dependence on NATO. Although there is not yet any talk of Ankara’s pulling out of that institution, it is clearly inevitable that Turkey will reject some of the restrictive commitments and rules mandated by the North Atlantic alliance. Those might chiefly involve decisions to use military force that is unsanctioned by NATO. Erdoğan set out to entirely eliminate Turkey’s dependence on defense imports – which includes the goal of launching his country’s own aircraft carrier – by 2023, when Turkey will celebrate the centennial of the founding of its republic.

It’s no secret to anyone that nowadays NATO positions itself as a kind of “introductory class” to prep countries on their path to EU membership. All of Eastern Europe, for example, was forced to pass through this purgatory. It’s no surprise that Austria, Finland, and Sweden, which were early joiners to the European Union, aren’t seriously contemplating becoming NATO members, despite the discussions on this topic that are constantly forced upon them. And as far as Turkey is concerned, without the prospect of joining the EU, that alliance has become too cumbersome and useless.

From the standpoint of Turkey’s real interests, gradual rapprochement with its regional neighbors – Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Russia, as well as with global unions such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization – may be more promising. Although some might currently view this drift as a mere episode, it is in fact quite a logical development, based on objective criteria and which may well prove to be long-term.

October 12, 2017 Posted by | Economics, Timeless or most popular | , , , , | Leave a comment

Trump is sinking in the quicksand of West Asia

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | October 10, 2017

An amazing week is unfolding in West Asian politics. It began with three dramatic developments on Monday – Turkish troops crossing the border into Syria’s Idlib province; announcement in Moscow on agreement to sell the S-400 missile defence system to Saudi Arabia; and, the freeze on visas by the US and Turkey for each other’s nationals. And the week promises to be climactic in the US-Iranian relations.

On Monday Iranian Foreign Ministry warned that any move by the Trump administration to impose sanctions against the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps will be a “strategic mistake” and Tehran’s response will be “firm, decisive and crushing”. It echoed a warning by the head of the IRGC, General Mohammad Ali Jafari that if the US designated his organization as terrorist, Iran will regard the US forces anywhere as the allies of the Islamic State and target them. Indeed, the weekend is slated to witness the refusal by US President Donald Trump to meet the October 15 deadline for endorsing Washington’s participation in the Iran nuclear deal. The common thread that runs through all these developments is the US’ standing in West Asia vis-a-vis the three most important regional states — Turkey, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Syria: The Turkish military operation in Idlib is directed against the al-Qaeda affiliate Nusra Front. The operation stems from the Astana process where Russia, Turkey and Iran have worked out the establishment of a ‘de-escalation zone’ in Idlib. The US is the odd man out looking in. The backdrop is provided by the upswing in Turkish-Russian relations and the recent Turkish-Iranian rapprochement. Turkey and Iran have common interest to counter the US-Israeli encouragement to Kurdish separatism. Clearly, the Turkish-Iranian rapprochement is having positive fallout on the Syrian situation.

Saudi-Russian ties: The announcement in Moscow on Monday regarding the sale of the S-400 missile defence system to Saudi Arabia signifies a tectonic shift in the Middle East politics. Saudi Arabia has been a ‘pivotal state’ in the US’ Middle East strategies since the mid-forties. It is now embarking on a ‘non-aligned’ foreign policy. The visit by King Salman to Russia last week, Aramco’s dealings with Rosneft and Gazprom, OPEC-Russia agreement to cut oil production – these suggest that the US-Saudi axis is steadily dissolving. Interestingly, Tehran is calmly viewing the Saudi-Russian rapprochement. These trends put a dagger at the heart of the entire US strategy in the Gulf, which had historically fostered a ‘bloc mentality’ among the Sunni states by fuelling their tensions vis-à-vis Iran.

Sensing that Saudi Arabia and Russia might clinch a deal over the S-400 missile defence system, Washington hurriedly announced last Friday that it proposed to accede to the pending request from Riyadh for purchase of the rival THAAD missile system. (Due to Israeli pressure Washington was dragging its feet on the $15 billion deal.) A keen tussle is developing and its outcome will be a litmus test of the US’ capacity to influence Saudi decision-making.

Turkish-American spat: Last week Turkish security nabbed a local employee of the US Consulate in Istanbul for alleged links with the Islamist preacher Fetullah Gulen who is living in the US and whom the Turks suspect as having been involved in the US-backed coup attempt last July against Erdogan. Washington went ballistic. From all appearances, Turkish intelligence may have nabbed a key accomplice of the CIA who had acted as go-between during the failed coup attempt last year. The statement by the US ambassador in Ankara, here, betrays nervousness. Woven into this is Washington’s support of Kurdish separatist groups, which Erdogan sees as the ‘hidden agenda’ of Americans to destabilize Turkey. The Turkish-American relations are in serious difficulty.

Iran nuclear deal: Trump is about to announce this weekend that Iran is not in compliance with the July 2015 nuclear deal. If that happens, US lawmakers have a 60-day window to decide whether to re-impose sanctions against Iran. The Israeli lobby is active on the Capitol Hill. To be sure, pressure will mount on Tehran to respond and retaliate somehow. There is an influential section of opinion within the Iranian establishment that never trusted the US intentions. Clearly, the door is closing on a gestation process over confidence-building that might have incrementally led to a US-Iranian normalization. (Read an insightful opinion piece in the New York Times by Wendy R. Sherman, a former Undersecretary of State for political affairs, who was the US’ lead negotiator for the Iran nuclear agreement – Trump Is Going to Make a Huge Mistake on the Iran Deal.)

All in all, the US is running out of friends and allies in West Asia – with the solitary exception of Israel. Its traditional Cold War-era NATO ally Turkey is turning unfriendly; Iran is preparing to confront the US; GCC is in turmoil but the US is watching helplessly; and, most important, Saudis are exploring the seamless potentials of a non-aligned foreign policy. Trump’s record in West Asia is proving dismal.

October 10, 2017 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

US, Turkey suspend visa services amid arrested employee row

DAILY SABAH | October 8, 2017

The U.S. embassy in Ankara said Sunday that all non-immigrant visa services in its diplomatic facilities in Turkey were suspended after the arrest of one of its employees over the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) ties.

A statement released by the embassy said: “Recent events have forced the U.S. government to reassess the commitment of the Government of Turkey to the security of the U.S. Mission facilities and personnel.”

The statement said the suspension, effective immediately, is intended to minimize the number of visitors to the consulate and embassy buildings.

Hours after the U.S. decision, Turkey said it has halted processing visa applications from the U.S. The move, announced online by the Turkish embassy in Washington, applies to visas in passports, electronic visas and visas at the borders, and is also effective immediately.

Metin Topuz, a Turkish employee working in the U.S. Consulate in Istanbul was arrested on charges of espionage and links to FETÖ, the group blamed for the July 15, 2016 coup attempt that killed 249 people in Turkey.

According to the indictment, the suspect was in contact with a number of former police chiefs in Istanbul where he worked, and all those police chiefs involved in the 2013 coup attempts were FETÖ members in the judiciary and law enforcement.

He was also in touch with Oktay Akkaya, a former lieutenant colonel who was among the main actors in the 2016 coup attempt.

“The suspect acted as a liaison between members of FETÖ and its leader, Fetullah Gülen, who lives in Pennsylvania,” the indictment adds, claiming there is strong evidence to justify Topuz’s arrest.

October 8, 2017 Posted by | Aletho News | , | Leave a comment