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Rouhani Phones Erdogan, Highlights Necessity of Respecting Syria’s Sovereignty and Territorial Integrity

Al-Manar | February 20, 2018

Iran’s President Sheikh Hassan Rouhani reiterated the necessity of respecting Syria’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, underlining the need to restore security and stability to it as soon as possible and provide appropriate conditions that will enable all Syrian displaced people to return home.

Rouhani’s remark came during a phone call with his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday.

The Iranian President added that talks between the leaders and officials of Iran, Russia and Turkey in Astana and Sochi have been promising in terms of enhancing security and stability in Syria.

He stressed that this constructive track should be further reinforced through the continuous consultations among the heads of the three states.

Rouhani said that fighting terrorism, cleansing Syria of terrorist organizations and countering separatist attempts in the region are among the common objectives of Iran and Turkey, adding that “We should not allow terrorist groups to regain strength and return again to the region.”

He pointed out to the US-Zionist conspiracies against the countries of the region, noting that Iran and Turkey have common objectives regarding the regional and international issues.

The Iranian President called for consolidating cooperation in line with implementing the decisions reached in Astana.

February 20, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Wars for Israel | , , , | Leave a comment

US baits Turkey in hopes of ending Ankara’s Russian dalliance

Leaving aside the issue of the Kurds in Syria, Washington is experienced in leveraging Turkish predicaments – and appears optimistic about doing so again

By MK Bhadrakumar | Asia Times | February 20, 2018

When the host country openly patronizes a Track 2 – or ‘backchannel’ – event, it becomes Track 1.5. The conference in Moscow on Monday under the rubric ‘Russia in the Middle East: Playing on Every Field,’ seemed firmly in this category.

However, just as the event was about to begin, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, joined Russia’s, Sergey Lavrov, on the podium, raising matters to the level Track 1.

Nonetheless, Turkey’s absence must be noted. The backdrop is the US-Turkish “thaw” following a two-day visit to Ankara last weekend by the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The first authoritative comments by the Trump administration regarding Tillerson’s talks came from US Defence Secretary James Mattis, who said on Saturday:

“We concur with Turkey on the need for locals taking control of the liberated areas [in Syria], and we’re going to work with Turkey on the locals taking control, and with Turkey on every other irritant, or diversion or distraction, or every area. We have many areas of absolute concurrence, too. Remember that, they are an ally. We work with them… So this is not an all-one-way issue, but there are significant issues that the Secretary of State and his foreign minister counterpart agreed that we would work through… I can’t tell you that we’ve resolved them all. That means we’re going to work through them. We’re committed to them. That’s where we’re going.”

Mattis was donning a diplomatic hat in projecting such an optimistic assessment. Tillerson’s talks in Ankara were wide-ranging and there were exchanges on creating and jointly managing a zone of influence in northern Syria. But for Turkey, the vacation of the region to the west of the Euphrates by US-backed Kurdish militias is a non-negotiable demand. The Pentagon will be hard-pressed to jettison its alliance with those militias.

The US-Turkey reconciliation process will not be easy. But then again, it does not suit either side to allow the discussions to reach a dead end anytime soon. Turkey’s operation in Afrin is not going well and that puts future operations in doubt – which, in turn, gives time and space for both Ankara and Washington to negotiate. And for the US, while the Kurds may be regarded as useful (perhaps irreplaceable) footsoldiers, the resuscitation of an alliance with Turkey could be a game changer.

Washington senses that Turkish President Recep Erdogan is groping for a way forward. He has made an extra effort in recent weeks to mend ties with Germany, signaling that Turkey does not want isolation from the West. Make no mistake that Washington is greatly experienced in leveraging Turkish predicaments. Washington has shown time and again that it has a way of getting things done with Ankara, its time-tested cold war ally. Mattis’ optimism reflects that.

The big question is how the Russian-Iranian alliance will respond to a potential US-Turkey entente in northern Syria. Indeed, it will be a major setback for Moscow and Tehran if Ankara reverts to coordinating with the US. Events on the ground in recent weeks should leave Moscow in no doubt that eliminating the Russian presence in Eastern Mediterranean is as much a priority for the Pentagon as rolling back Iranian influence in Syria. Russian President Vladimir Putin telephoned Erdogan on Monday to discuss Syria.

Afrin may seem the immediate focal point, but the various protagonists are attempting to create new facts on the ground. Russia and Iran have a congruence of interests in opposing the expansion of the US presence in northern Syria. (Afrin is the gateway to Idlib, which is adjacent to the coastal province of Latakia, where the Russian bases are located.)

Lavrov on Monday warned today that the US should not play with fire. In a hard-hitting speech at the Moscow conference, he alleged that the US is using the Kurds as a proxy and also covertly encouraging extremist groups to “disintegrate Syria”. Meanwhile, the Tass news agency quoted Zarif as stressing to Lavrov that the flow of events “demonstrates the depth of strategic relations between Iran and Russia, which have been playing a very important role in maintaining security and stability in our region.”

However, neither Moscow nor Tehran has voiced any criticism of Turkey. They seem reasonably confident that Turkish-American reconciliation is improbable, since Syria is only the tip of the iceberg against which mutual trust between the two NATO allies crashed in the aftermath of a failed coup attempt against Erdogan in July 2016.

The Russian-Iranian strategy will be to keep Turkey constructively engaged even as Ankara is involved in back-to-back negotiations with Washington beginning in the first half of March. Zarif disclosed in Moscow that he and his Russian and Turkish counterparts propose to meet in Astana in a fortnight to prepare the ground for a trilateral summit meeting of the three presidents in Istanbul regarding Syria.

February 20, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Syria to Continue Fighting ‘Aggressors,’ Whether it’s Israel, US or Turkey

Sputnik – 19.02.2018

Syria should continue fighting the US, Turkish and Israeli “invaders” who attacked the country right after it got rid of terrorists, Bouthaina Shaaban, an adviser to the Syrian president, said Monday.

“We should go on fighting any foreign invaders on our land, whether it’s Israeli, American or Turkish,” Shaaban said at the Valdai Discussion Club’s Middle East Conference.

She noted that those countries launched an attack against Damascus right after it managed to free the country of terrorists.

“When we are able to liberate most of our land from terrorism, Israel, Turkey and the United States start to attack our land,” the adviser stressed.

According to Shaaban, Ankara does not implement the Astana agreements on the settlement of the Syrian crisis but uses it as an excuse “to invade the country.”

“Turkey facilitated the arrival of all these mercenaries and when it felt that these terrorist mercenaries were loosing the ground, it invaded the Syrian territory in full cooperation with terrorists. Turkey invaded our land in full violation of the international law and used Astana Agreement as a cover for invading the Syrian territory on an unexpected pretext,” Shaaban said at the Valdai Discussion Club’s Middle East Conference.

Ankara has been carrying out “Olive Branch” operation in Syrian northern district of Afrin since January 20, saying that its offensive was aimed at clearing the Turkish border with Syria from terrorist presence. Turkey considers the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) and the allied Democratic Union Party (PYD) to be linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), listed as a terrorist organization by Ankara.

Turkey has said that around 1,500 militants have been killed or captured as a result of the ongoing operation.

Damascus has expressed its opposition to the Turkish operation in Afrin, saying that such actions violated Syrian sovereignty.

On Russia’s Aide

Speaking further, the Shaaban noted that Russian army had no presence in Syria, while all the Russia’s support to Syria comes from the country’s air force.

“There is no Russian army in Syria. There is only air force. All other reports in the western media are just propaganda,” Shaaban told reporters.

Last December, Russian President Vladimir Putin ordered to withdraw Russian forces from Syria, after completing their task to destroy Daesh.

Earlier in the day, Moscow began hosting a two-day conference covering a whole range of Middle Eastern issues, which is being attended by high-ranking officials, such as Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.

February 19, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , , | 1 Comment

Putin’s Grand Bargain to Israel: Can Israel Digest It?

By Alastair CROOKE | Strategic Culture Foundation | 17.02.2018

“Israel is climbing up a high horse,” Alex Fishman (the veteran Israeli Defence Correspondent) wrote in the Hebrew daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, last month, “and is approaching with giant steps a ‘war of choice’: Without mincing words, it’s an initiated war in Lebanon.” In Fishman’s article, he notes: “Classical deterrence is when you threaten an enemy not to harm you in your territory, but here, Israel demands that the enemy refrain from doing something in its own territory, otherwise Israel will harm it. From a historical perspective and from the perspective of international legitimacy, the chances of this threat being accepted as valid, leading to the cessation of enemy activities in its own territory, are slim.”

Ben Caspit also wrote about a fair prospect of a “war of choice,” whilst a Haaretz editorial – explains Professor Idan Landau in an Israeli news blog – noted: “The Israeli government therefore owes Israeli citizens a precise, pertinent and persuasive explanation as to why a missile factory in Lebanon has changed the strategic balance to the extent that it requires going to war. It must present assessments to the Israeli public as to the expected number of casualties, damage to civilian infrastructure and the economic cost of going to war, as compared with the danger that construction of the missile factory constitutes.”

We live dangerous times in the Middle East today – both in the immediate present, and in the mid-term, too.

Last week saw the first ‘game changer’ that almost plunged the region into war: the downing of one of Israel’s most sophisticated aircraft – an F16i. But as Amos Harel notes, on this occasion: “Russian President Vladimir Putin put an end to the confrontation between Israel and Iran in Syria – and both sides accepted his decision … On Saturday afternoon, after the second wave of bombardments … senior Israeli officials were still taking a militant line, and it seemed as if Jerusalem was considering further military action. Discussion of that ended not long after a phone call between Putin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu” (emphasis added).

And that last statement represented the second ‘game changer’: In ‘good old days’, as Martin Indyk called it, it would have been to the US that Israel reflexively would have turned, but not this time. Israel asked President Putin to mediate. It seems that Israel believes that Mr Putin is now the ‘indispensable power’. And in terms of airspace in the north, he is. As Ronen Bergman wrote in the New York Times: “Israel will no longer be able to act in Syria without limitations”; and secondly, “if anyone was not yet aware of it, Russia is the dominant power in the region”.

So, what is all this about? Well for a start, it is not about a drone which may (or may not) have trespassed into what Israel calls Israel, or what Syria sees as ‘occupied Golan’. Let us ignore all that: or, think of it as ‘the butterfly wing effect’ in chaos theory, whose tiny wing changes ‘the world’, if you prefer. Ultimately however, these various warnings of impending war, precipitated out from the Syrian State’s success in defeating the jihadi insurgency mounted against it. This outcome has changed the regional balance of power – and we are witnessing states reacting to that strategic defeat.

Israel, having backed the losing side, wants to limit its losses. It fears the changes taking place across the northern tier of the region: Prime Minister Netanyahu has several times sought guarantees from President Putin that Iran and Hizbullah should not be allowed to gain any strategic advantage from Syria’s victory that might be to Israel’s disadvantage. But Putin, it seems clear, gave no guarantees. He told Netanyahu that whilst he recognised, and acknowledged Israel’s security interests, Russia had its interests, too – and also underlined that Iran was a “strategic partner” of Russia.

In practice, there is no effective Iranian or Hizbullah presence in any proximate vicinity to Israel (and indeed both Iran and Hizbullah have substantially pared their forces in Syria as a whole). But, it seems that Netanyahu wanted more: And to put leverage on Russia to guarantee a future Syria, free from any ‘Shi’a presence, Israel has been bombing Syria on almost a weekly basis, and issuing a series of war-like threats against Lebanon (on the pretext that Iran was constructing ‘sophisticated missile’ factories there), saying, in effect to President Putin, that if you do not give ironclad guarantees vis-à-vis a Syria free of Iran and Hizbullah, we will disrupt both countries.

Well, what happened is that Israel lost an F16: unexpectedly shot down by the Syrian air defences. The message is this: ‘Stability in Syria and Lebanon is a Russian interest. Whilst, we recognise Israel’s security interests, don’t mess with ours. If you want a war with Iran that is your business, and Russia will not be involved; but do not forget that Iran is, and remains our strategic partner’.

This is Putin’s Grand Bargain: Russia will assume a certain defined responsibility for Israel’s security, but not if Israel undertakes wars of choice against Iran and Hizbullah, or if it deliberately disrupts stability in the North (including Iraq). And no more gratuitous bombing raids in the north, intended to disrupt stability. But if Israel wants a war with Iran, then Russia will stand aloof.

Israel has now had a taste of President Putin’s ‘stick’: Your air superiority in the North has just been punctured by the Syrian air defences. You, Israel, will lose it completely were our Russian S400s air defences to be enabled: ‘Think it over’.

In case of doubt, consider this statement in 2017, by the Chief of Staff of the Russian Aerospace Forces, Major-General Sergey Meshcheryakov. He said: “Today, a unified, integrated air defense system has been set up in Syria. We have ensured the information and technical interlinkage of the Russian and Syrian air reconnaissance systems. All information on the situation in the air comes from Syrian radar stations to the control points of the Russian force grouping”.

Two things flow from this: First, that Russia knew exactly what was going on when the Israeli F16 met with a barrage of Syrian air defence missiles. As Alex Fishman, doyen of Israeli defence correspondents, noted (in Hebrew) Yediot Ahoronot on 11 February: “One of the [Israeli] planes was hit by the two barrages of 27 Syrian surface-to-air missiles… which is a huge achievement for the Syrian army, and embarrassing for the IAF, since the electronic warfare systems that envelope the plane were supposed to have provided protection from a barrage of missiles… The IAF is going to have to conduct an in-depth technical-intelligence inquiry to determine: are the Syrians in possession of systems that are capable of bypassing the Israeli warning and jamming systems? Have the Syrians developed a new technique that the IAF is unaware of? It was reported that the pilots did not radio in any alert that an enemy missile had locked onto their plane. In principle, they were supposed to report that. They might have been preoccupied. But there is also the more severe possibility that they were unaware of the missile that had locked onto them—which leads to the question of why they didn’t know, and only realized the severity of the damage after they had been hit and were forced to bail out.”

And the second: that subsequent Israeli claims that Syria was then punished by Israel through the destruction of 50% of her air defence system should be taken with a big pinch of salt. Recall what Meshcheryakov said: It was a fully integrated, unified Russian-Syrian system, which is to say it had a Russian flag flying over it. (And this initial Israeli claim has now been back-peddled by the IDF spokesman; see here).

Finally, Putin, in the wake of the F16 downing, told Israel to stop destabilising Syria. He said nothing about Syria’s drone patrolling the southern border (a regular Syrian practice for monitoring insurgent groups in the south).

The message is clear: Israel gets Russia’s limited security guarantees, but loses its freedom of action. Without air domination (which Russia already has seized), the assumed superiority over its neighbouring Arab states – which Israel long since has folded into its collective psyche – will see Israel’s wings clipped.

Can such a bargain be digested culturally in Israel? We must wait to see whether Israel’s leaders accept that they no longer enjoy air superiority over Lebanon or Syria; or whether, as the Israeli commentators warn in our introductory quotes, the Israeli political leadership will opt for a ‘war of choice’, in an attempt to pre-empt Israel’s final loss of its domination of the skies. There is, of course, a further option of running to Washington, in order to try to co-opt America into adopting the eviction of Iran from Syria – but our guess is that Putin has already quietly squared Trump with his plan beforehand. Who knows?

And would then a preventive war to try recuperate Israeli air superiority be feasible or realistic from the perspective of the Israeli Defence Forces? It’s a moot point. A third of Israelis are culturally, and ethnically, Russian, and many admire President Putin. Also, could Israel count, in such circumstances, on Russia not using its own highly sophisticated S400 air-defence missiles, stationed in Syria, in order to protect Russian servicemen stationed across Syria?

And the Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese tensions, in themselves, do not bring an end to the present clutch of risks associated with Syria. On the same weekend, Turkey lost a helicopter and its two crew, brought down by Kurdish forces in Afrin. Sentiment in Turkey against the YPG and PKK is heating up; nationalism and New Ottomanism is spiking; and America is being angrily portrayed as Turkey’s “strategic enemy”. President Erdogan asserts forcefully that Turkish forces will clear all the YPG/PKK forces from Afrin to the Euphrates, but an American general says that American troops will not budge from blocking Erdogan’s route, midway – at Manbij. Who will blink first? And, can this escalation continue without a major rupture to Turkish-US relations? (Erdogan has already noted that America’s defense budget for 2019 includes an allocation of $550 million for the YPG. What exactly does America mean by that provision?).

Also, can a US military leadership, concerned to play-out a re-make of the Vietnam war – but with America winning this time (to show that the Vietnam outcome was a wholly unmerited defeat for the US forces) – accept to pull back from its aggressively imposed occupation of Syria, east of the Euphrates, and thus lose further credibility? Particularly when restoring US military credibility and leverage is the very mantra of the White House generals (and Trump)? Or, will the pursuit of US military ‘credibility’ degenerate into a game of ‘chicken’, mounted by US forces versus the Syrian Armed Forces – or even with Russia itself, which views the US occupation in Syria as inherently disturbing to the regional stability which Russia is trying to establish.

The ‘big picture’ competition between states for the future of Syria (and the region) – is open and visible. But who lay behind these other provocations, which could equally have led to escalation, and quite easily slipped the region towards conflict? Who provided the man portable surface-to-air missile that brought down the Russian SU25 fighter – and which ended, with the pilot, surrounded by jihadists, courageously preferring to kill himself with his own grenade, rather than be taken alive? Who ‘facilitated’ the insurgent group which fired the manpad? Who armed the Afrin Kurds with sophisticated anti-tank weapons (that have destroyed some twenty Turkish tanks)? Who provided the millions of dollars to engineer the tunnels and bunkers built by the Afrin Kurds, and who paid for the kitting out of its armed force?

And who was behind the swarm of drones, with explosives attached, sent to attack the main Russian airbase at Khmeimim? The drones were made to look outwardly like some simple home-made affair, which an insurgent force might cobble together, but since Russian electronic measures managed to take control and land six of them, the Russians were able to see that, internally, they were quite different: They contained sophisticated electronic counter-measures and GPS guidance systems within. In short, the rustic external was camouflage to its true sophistication, which likely represented the handiwork of a state agency. Who? Why? Was someone trying to set Russia and Turkey at each other’s throats?

We do not know. But it is plain enough that Syria is the crucible to powerful destructive forces which might advertently, or inadvertently, ignite Syria – and – potentially, the Middle East. And as the Israeli defence correspondent, Amos Harel, wrote, we have already this last weekend, “come a hair’s breadth from a slide into war”.

February 17, 2018 Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Israeli Parliament Votes Against Bill Recognizing Genocide of Armenians

Sputnik – February 15, 2018

The Knesset on Wednesday voted against a draft law implying the recognition of the genocide of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire, Israeli media reported Wednesday.

According to the Jerusalem Post newspaper, the legislative body rejected the bill proposed by the Yesh Atid party.

The media outlet added that Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid stressed that Israel should recognize the genocide of Armenians, as the Jewish people had also survived a similar calamity, the Holocaust.

According to different estimates, over million of Armenians were killed or starved to death by the Ottoman Empire during and after World War I.

urkey has repeatedly denied accusations of committing mass murder of Armenians, claiming that the victims of the tragedy were both Turks and Armenians.

Armenia insists on the recognition of the Armenian genocide by the Ottoman Empire by the international community. The Armenian genocide has already been recognized by Russia and numerous EU countries, as well as the European Parliament.

February 15, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , | Leave a comment

US to raise Kurdish force in Syria ignoring Turkey’s warnings

By M K Bhadrakumar | Indian Punchline | February 13, 2018

The Turkish President Recep Erdogan scaled up his rhetoric against Washington dramatically as the countdown begins for the visit by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to Ankara on February 15. Addressing the Turkish parliament on Tuesday, Erdogan hit hard that the US should expect an “Ottoman slap” if it continued to align with the Syrian Kurds. “They (Americans) have mistaken Turkey for the kind of place where they can come and go as they please without giving an account. They will soon see that it’s not such a place,” Erdogan warned.

Turkey is infuriated by reports that the Pentagon has requested $1.4 billion for the 2019 fiscal year to train and equip Kurds in Iraq and Syria. A key aspect of the long-term strategy is the building up of local Kurdish forces. Tillerson confirmed this in a statement in Washington on Tuesday when he said, “The United States will maintain a conditions-based and ISIS-focused military presence in Syria. As part of that presence, we will continue to train local security forces in Syria.”

Erdoğan warned today that Washington’s decision to continue funding the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia will “affect Turkey’s decisions.” He insisted that although initial aid figures are estimated at $550 million, “information obtained by Ankara” indicated that this financial support “could increase to $3 billion.”

Clearly, the Trump administration is ignoring Turkey’s warnings and is proceeding to raise a well-trained Kurdish force in northern Syria equipped with American weapons. This is also the Russian assessment. At a press conference today, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov did some plain-speaking on what the US project in Syria looks like:

  • In general, we have a suspicion…. that the United States wants to stay there (Syria) for a long time, if not forever… The Americans, in my opinion… are trying to act by dangerous unilateral steps. And by the way, these steps look more and more like part of a line for creating a certain quasi-state on a large part of the Syrian territory — on the eastern bank of the Euphrates and up to the Iraqi border.

Turkey is adamant that it will resist any such US project to carve out a Kurdish state along its border with Syria. Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said on Tuesday that Turkey will eliminate all threats along its borders “wherever they come from. Those who want to found a state along our borders will be disappointed.” Yildirim called on the U.S. “to cut its support to those murderers (Kurdish militia) and stop giving them weapons. This is a dark, dead-end-street. You (US) still have time to correct your mistake.”

It may appear that things are moving toward a Turkey-US confrontation. However, the US is playing for time by engaging Turkey. The National Security Advisor HR McMaster visited Ankara in the weekend and the two defence ministers also met in Brussels. Tillerson is arriving in Ankara on Thursday. Washington estimates that there is still time available to negotiate a deal pending the completion of Turkey’s current military operations in Afrin.

The Kurds in Afrin are fiercely resisting the Turkish forces. The Turkish Army General Staff announced on Monday that 31 Turkish army men have been killed and 143 more wounded in the offensive against the Kurds in Afrin so far. According to the Russian media, Kurdish fighters in Afrin have received new weapons and may launch counter-attacks inside Turkey. (An advanced Turkish drone was shot down in Afrin today.) Kurds from Iraq are also joining the fighting in Afrin.

The best American hope will be that the Turkish forces get bogged down in Afrin for quite a while. And, indeed, the US calculates that if the Turkish forces take a heavy toll in Afrin and the going gets tough, Erdogan may not even have the appetite to escalate the operations to the other regions in northern Syria west of the Euphrates that are presently under the control of US-backed Syrian Kurdish militia.

However, it is a risky gambit because it is not only Turkey but Russia and Iran also who want the US military presence in Syria to end. During a congressional testimony in Washington, DC, on February 6, the former US ambassador to Iraq and Syria Robert Ford explicitly warned that it is a matter of time before the US personnel in Syria get targeted. Ambassador Ford’s testimony is here.

February 13, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation | , , , , | 2 Comments

Iran Calls on Turkey to End Afrin Offensive

Al-Manar | February 5, 2018

Iran’s FM Spokesman Ghasemi called on Turkey to end its major offensive in northwestern Syrian city of Afrin, saying the operation would bring back instability and terrorists to the Arab country.

Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Bahram Ghasemi made the remarks in his weekly press conference on Monday, adding “Ankara needs to reconsider its policy on [Afrin].”

Ghasemi urged Turkish government to immediately end its offensive in Syria, adding “the continuation of Turkey’s military operation will facilitate the return of instability and terrorism to Syria.”

He further called on Turkey to follow up all Syrian-related developments within the framework of Astana peace process.

The Iranian diplomat had previously urged Ankara to protect the territorial integrity of Syria and to avoid the escalation of crisis in the Middle Eastern country.

On Jan. 20, Turkey launched ‘Operation Olive Branch’, its second major military intervention in Syria since 2011, in a bid to eliminate the US-backed YPG, which Ankara views as a terror organization as well as the Syrian branch of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK).

Both sides have suffered casualties during the operation that has come under strong criticism by Damascus.

February 5, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Militarism, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes | , , , , | Leave a comment

Miscalculations in Israel Could Pave Way to Wider War

By Alastair Crooke | Consortium News | January 29, 2018

Last week, Israeli political leaders were rolling with guffaws and ribbing each other in delight as Vice-President Mike Pence proved that, as a Christian Zionist, he was more Zionist than the Zionists in the Knesset (minus, of course, its evicted Arab members – see here). But one might wonder what the more sober Israeli security echelon figures were thinking as they listened to Pence’s Knesset speech, which was rife with Biblical references and declarations of his “admiration for the People of the Book.”

Perhaps they were speculating how far they might be able to go in influencing Pence and his boss, Donald Trump, to wield U.S. military power to advance Israeli interests.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, via the Trump family go-betweens – Jared Kushner, and the Trump family lawyers – has certainly had an impact in Washington. The Middle East landscape has changed considerably over the last year as a consequence, but the nature of that change is what is at issue. How many of these changes have actually benefited Israel’s – or the U.S.’s – security interests?

When Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (MbS) began his coup last June, ultimately resulting in this 31-year-old assuming absolute power, President Trump characteristically took full credit. “We’ve put our man on top!” he bragged to his friends, according to Michael Wolff in his book, Fire and Fury.  Yes, Trump was right – partly.

“Our man” came out on top, but it was Netanyahu, working the levers behind the scenes, and Mohammad bin Zayed (MbZ)’s “man” in Washington, United Arab Emeriates Ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba, who did the heavy lifting in order to change the U.S.’s settled preference for Prince bin Naif, as Successor to the Throne. And it was MbZ, in the first place, who had advised MbS that it was Israeli support that was both the necessary, and the sufficient condition, for him to become Crown Prince. Netanyahu (and Israel) cannot escape some responsibility for the condition in which the kingdom now finds itself.

Are the more sober-minded Israelis now still congratulating themselves with enthusiasm for their “new man at the top”? One has some doubts, as Saudi Arabia transforms into a ticking bomb of internal, family, and tribal hatreds – and as the peripheral Emirates wonder what is to become of them in this new era of Saudi hyper foreign policy activity; or what might be their futures, were this Saudi “bomb” somehow to self-detonate. (“Not pretty” is likely to be their conclusion.)

And, for the second major aspect to Israel’s influence on the Trump administration, one has to look no further than the Kurds: Israeli Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked said, just before Masoud Barzani’s independence referendum, that “Israel and countries of the West, have a major interest in the establishment of the State of Kurdistan.” She added, “I think that the time has come for the U.S. to support the process.”

(Netanyahu supported the Kurdish bid too, and reportedly, urged Barzani to press on, despite the opposition amongst the Kurds themselves, and from all the surrounding neighbouring states). That ploy did not work out too well.

First came the Barzani fiasco, with his initiative squashed within 24 hours, and now we have Plan B: a Kurdish “statelet” in northern Syria. And that too is now unravelling.

Israel, having failed to get the buffer zones it sought along the Golan armistice line, or on the Syrian-Iraqi frontier; and having failed to keep the Iraqi-Syrian border closed, prevailed upon a receptive U.S. administration to implant a Kurdish wedge in north-eastern Syria. This was an outcome intended to keep Syria weak (the oil and gas assets being denied to the Central Government, and the Syrian state divided, and at odds with itself), and to keep open the connectivity of the Syrian mini “state project” to the Kurdish population of northern Iraq.

The Israeli “project” with the Kurds is a longstanding one, and very much “hands on.” It was most clearly formalized in the so-called Oded Yinon plan which was published in 1982, and which advocated the fragmentation of the Middle East, in terms of a logic of sectarian division. So, when Minister Shaked advocated for a Kurdish state, saying that it would be integral to Israeli efforts to “reshape” the Middle East, it is highly likely that she had the Yinon plan in mind, which advocated an Iraq fragmented into separate states.

But again (in spite of the Barzani fiasco), there was overreach: Moscow and Damascus offered the Kurds a compromise that would allow for a measure of autonomy, but insisted on the preservation of state sovereignty over all of Syria. The Kurds forcefully declined (apparently believing that Washington had their backs). And U.S. Centcom overreached: they gave the Kurds advanced anti-tank weapons, and man-portable surface to air missiles, too.

Of course the Turks “got it.”  Such weapons in the hands of the Kurds change the whole strategic balance.  Such weapons have nothing to do with pushing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to agree a modified constitution for Syria. That narrative is quite implausible. This weaponizing was about empowering the Kurds à la Oded Yinon: not just in Syria and Iraq, but as a ploy to weaken and fracture Turkey as well: No wonder the Kurds of Afrin were so full of themselves. Senior Turkish commentators, such as Ibrahim Karagul (a leading commentator who is close to Erdogan) were unsurprisingly plain in identifying Israel’s hand in wanting Turkey’s state fragmentation.

So, what has been achieved? Ankara now is profoundly (and perhaps irrevocably) disenchanted with Washington. Damascus is quietly sorting out Idlib (now depleted by armed opposition groups, commandeered by Turkey to assist in Afrin). Pressure on Assad is relieved; and Turkey has shifted more deeply into the Russian-Iran-Iraq axis. Washington is now ruing the Turkish anger, but what did they expect?

The writing was on the wall at the May 19 press conference held by Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman General Joseph Dunford, and Special Envoy to Counter ISIS Brett McGurk, in which they attempted to smooth over frayed relations with Ankara regarding disputes regarding Washington’s support for the Kurds.

But then came Netanyahu’s third major input into U.S. policy: encouraging President Trump to ditch the JCPOA, the Iran nuclear deal.

Pence stated that Trump will refuse to sign the U.S. nuclear sanctions waiver this May. But as Washington now rues the Turkish reaction to its Kurdish initiative; so Israel may yet come to rue the loss of the JCPOA. Does the Israeli leadership seriously believe that Lilliputian MbS, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are going to Gulliverise Iran and its allies? And does the Israeli armed forces truly trust the U.S. to have its back completely, if it comes to regional war?

And finally, there is the “deal of the century”: sending VP Pence to threaten Jordan, Egypt and the Palestinians with withdrawal of funding completes the picture of an Israel hoeing in an extremely narrow, and highly partisan, Zionist seam of American (and global) support — a seam consisting of Jared Kushner (Trump’s son-in-law), David Friedman (Trump’s specialist in bankruptcy), and Jason Gleenblatt (a real estate lawyer, and the former chief legal officer working for Trump’s various companies).

Even Haim Saban, the strongly pro-Zionist founder of the U.S. Brookings’ Saban Center described the team to Kushner last month as “a bunch of Orthodox Jews who have no idea about anything.”

“The team has an entrepreneur — you — a real-estate lawyer, a bankruptcy lawyer. I don’t know how you’ve lasted eight months in this line-up. There’s not a Middle East macher in this group,” Saban said, using the Yiddish word for bigwig.

Kushner responded that while the team was “not conventional” it was “perfectly qualified,” defending Friedman’s reputation as “one of the most brilliant bankruptcy lawyers and a close friend of mine, and the President.”

Haim Saban noted that indeed, the situation in the Middle East, never had been so “bankrupt.”

Perhaps Netanyahu may come to reflect that, in mining this very narrow seam, he has placed Israel in a precarious place. He may rejoice at the Palestinians’ present humiliation by Trump and Pence, but as the Israeli PM catalyzes American foreign policy in ways that are deeply antagonistic to the region as a whole (not just Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq, but to treaty partners, Jordan and Egypt, too), come the next crisis, Israel may find itself friendless and alone. Even Gulf States are re-positioning – hedging, if you prefer – in the face of the deep uncertainty in Saudi Arabia.

America today is deeply polarized, with each side reflexively rejecting the views (on both domestic and foreign policies) of the other. Even within the wider seam of cultural nationalism that is apparent in America and Europe today, Trump’s rather narrow Middle East team line-up, is not even representative of ‘Alt-Right’ culture in general, which ultimately forms Trump’s base. The evidence — for all the Alt-Right’s insistence on a common Judeo-Christian basis – is that those identifying with the Alt-Right view their culture more narrowly. Rather, the unqualified support that Israel believes it now enjoys, may prove to be highly ephemeral.

The errors of judgment are obvious to Washington establishment figures, who see the consequence in mixed messages emanating from the administration and in the erosion of the unitary state into rebellious departmental fiefdoms, which the White House seems unable to control (see here on Turkey).

The Middle East (and the wider world), just skirted serious conflict in 2017, but we may not be so lucky in 2018. Trump is regarded as Israel’s “best friend,” but is that really so? Israel’s future seems much less secure one year after he assumed office. The landscape has darkened. Israel misjudged Syria; it misjudged its Syrian proxies; and (probably) will find that it has misjudged MbS – and now, a further miscalculation, this time with Turkey.

It may misjudge Iran next.

January 29, 2018 Posted by | Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel | , , , , | 1 Comment

US blinks under Turkish pressure in Syria

By M.K. Bhadrakumar | Asia Times | January 28, 2018

The Turkish President Recep Erdogan gave a stark warning to the Trump administration on Friday by stating his intention to order an assault on the northern Syrian town of Manbij, roughly 40 km from the Turkish border and 100 km to the east of Afrin, where US forces are operating alongside Kurdish militia.

He said, “Operation Olive Branch will continue until it reaches its goals. We will rid Manbij of terrorists (read Kurds) … Our battles will continue until no terrorist is left right up to our (910-km) border with Iraq.”

The fact of the matter is that unlike Afrin, which is predominantly Kurdish, the ethnic composition of Manbij is diverse with Arabs, Circassians and Chechens forming majority. A Turkish assault on Manbij will expose the fundamental contradiction in the US strategy to align with Kurds in the multi-ethnic northern Syrian region to the east of the Euphrates, where Arabs dominate and tribal solidarity remains strong.

The Kurds consider this region as “historically Kurdish,” based on notions from the Middle Ages and Salah al-Din, but the ground reality is that they can never integrate such a large Arab population. Suffice to say, undermining the Kurdish gains in Manbij is not going to be difficult for Turkey and US forces are sure to get caught in the crossfire, since without direct US intervention, Kurds will be at a disadvantage.

Occupation of Afrin is not the Turkish objective. Turkey’s aim is to scatter the Kurds’ Rojava dream, which is based on a contiguous homeland across northern Syria up to the East Mediterranean. The western analysts’ prognosis of a “Turkish quagmire” in Afrin is far-fetched. Turkey understands that it is futile to conquer Afrin, a region of rugged mountains with hostile Kurdish population.

The Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu hinted at this when he said on Friday, “After clearing them (Kurds), we will hand the region over to its real owners; namely, we will hand it over to Syrians.” Cavusoglu meant the Arab population. Interestingly, Kurds in Afrin have sent feelers to Damascus to come and reclaim the lost territory.

Much depends on the Russian game plan. Russia is in a unique position of being on friendly terms with Turkey, Afrin Kurds and Damascus. Moscow may prefer that the Turks complete their mission in Afrin and move on to Manbij. That gives respite to the Syrian government forces to gain control of Idlib.

Turkey is signaling that it will risk confrontation with the US, if it must. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag (who also officiates as the government spokesman) warned the Pentagon, “Those who support the terrorist organization will become a target in this battle. The United States needs to review its soldiers and elements giving support to terrorists on the ground in such a way as to avoid a confrontation with Turkey.”

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also spoke on these lines: “A big country like the US has a huge army and potential, does it need terrorist organizations (for its operations in the region)? … This is clear hostility. Turkey will not allow this no matter who is behind it, regardless of its power and whatever the name it may have.”

To be sure, Turkey is relentlessly piling pressure and is not giving any wriggle room to Washington. The Trump administration is compelled to compromise. The National Security Advisor HR McMaster telephoned the Turkish presidential aide Ibrahim Kalin on Friday late evening to discuss Turkey’s “legitimate interests” and to convey that the US will not provide weapons to the Syrian Kurds anymore.

McMaster’s overture followed a telephone conversation on Friday between Erdogan and British Prime Minister Theresa May. Britain has a role to play in the Kurdish problem, historically. Besides, the controversial speech on Syria by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at Stanford University ten days ago, which was the tipping point, had a big British input – where he proclaimed that military presence in Syria would continue “indefinitely” and that Pentagon planned to train a 30,000-strong Kurdish security force on the Turkish border.

In immediate terms, the US and Britain’s priority is to disrupt Russia’s Syria talks in Sochi on January 29-30, which is expected to discuss a constitution for Syria. The West sees Turkey’s role as the last countervailing force to a Russian-imposed peace in Syria.

However, any compromise formula at this point may be too little, too late for Erdogan at this stage. For one thing, the ground situation has acquired a dynamic of its own. The Kurds are firing rockets at Turkey with impunity. The point is, PKK is not under US command. Erdogan rejected McMaster’s assurance and alleged that US arms are still “flowing” to the Kuridsh militia.

Foreign Minister Cavusoglu point blank demanded today that the US forces should withdraw from Manbij “immediately.” Complying with the Turkish demand will be very humiliating for the Pentagon. But what is the alternative?

The signs are that Erdogan has a deal already with the Kremlin. Russia is tacitly acceding to the Turkish drive to weaken Kurds. It’s a “win-win” situation for Moscow and Ankara. From the Russian viewpoint, the US strategy in Syria will reach a cul-de-sac if the Turks degrade its Kurdish allies. It must be factored in that Moscow suspects that the US masterminded the attack attack on the Russian base at Hmeimim on January 5. President Putin hinted at this and went on to point a finger at a calculated ploy to wreck Russian-Turkish relations.

As for Turkey, given the trust deficit in their relations after the failed coup against Erdogan in 2015 and the opaqueness of American intentions in Syria and Iraq, Turkey is barely tolerating the US military-intelligence presence along its sensitive southern borders. But Turkey cannot and will not make an outright demand for a US pullout from Syria, being NATO allies and all that.

On the other hand, if the US is neither able to protect its Kurdish allies nor to create new facts on the ground in northern Syria (to counter the expanding Iranian presence), and also lacks the capacity to leverage the policies of regional states, what is the logic of maintaining isolated pockets of military presence in northeastern Syria “indefinitely?”

Thus, by degrading the Kurdish militia and effectively destroying their utility to the US, Erdogan is killing two birds with one stone. Putin must be sensing that, too. Meanwhile, Russia is prevailing upon Tehran and Damascus to get on with life, leaving it to Erdogan to sort out the fate of the US presence in Syria.

January 29, 2018 Posted by | Aletho News | , , , | 2 Comments

Playing ‘Kurdish Card’ in Syria Backfires on US As Turks Move In

By James George JATRAS | Strategic Culture Foundation | 25.01.2018

What the result will be of Turkey’s offensive against the Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin in northwest Syria may not be clear for a while, but two things are already certain. Bad decisions in Washington provided the trigger, and Washington’s regional position will suffer as a result of Ankara’s Orwellian-named “Operation Olive Branch.”

The offensive is the latest twist from Turkey’s erratic and unpredictable leader, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Let’s recall that “Sultan” Erdogan was an early and active participant in what was supposed to have been a relatively easy regime change operation in Syria starting in 2011, on the pattern of NATO’s overthrow of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi that same year. Turkey, with its lengthy border with Syria, was (and to some extent still is) a major supporter of al-Qaeda-linked jihadist groups in Syria, working with Saudi Arabia and Qatar under American guidance, with Israel as a silent partner. The appearance of ISIS (Daesh, ISIL) as an outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Iraq was a direct and foreseen consequence of that effort, as the Obama Administration was warned in 2012 by the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), then under the command of General Michael Flynn.

To the surprise of many, the Syrian government under President Bashar al-Assad didn’t just roll up and die but displayed an unexpected tenacity in defending that country’s secular, multi-religious society against outside efforts to impose a Wahhabist sectarian state. The clincher came with Russia’s September 2015 intervention, a distinctly unwelcome development for the “Assad must go!” crowd.

Two months later a crisis erupted between NATO-member Turkey and Russia when Turkish planes shot down a Russian Su-24 fighter (ostensibly for crossing into Turkish airspace) and ethnic Turkish (also called Turkmen) fighters murdered one of the two Russian airmen who parachuted from the plane. Perhaps Erdogan thought he could give Moscow a bloody nose and, with NATO’s backing him up, the Russians would turn tail and run. That didn’t happen, giving Erdogan reason to feel hung out to dry.

Then came the July 2016 coup attempt against Erdogan, orchestrated, he claims, by his former ally businessman, educator, and cleric Fethullah Gülen, resident in the U.S. Despite the deep freeze in Russia-Turkey ties since the Su-24 shootdown, Russian covert assistance reportedly was critical to saving Erdogan’s regime and perhaps his life. At the same time, his U.S. ally – which denies involvement in the coup attempt – still refuses to hand over Gülen, whose supporters in Turkey have been repressed in a massive purge of real or imagined opposition to Erdogan’s consolidation of power.

Internationally, the upshot of the coup’s failure was a turnaround in ties between Ankara and Moscow. In December 2016, Erdogan joined Russia and Iran, the principal supporters of the Syrian government against terrorists armed by Turkey among others, in the Astana peace process.

Erdogan, if not completely breaking with the anti-Assad coalition, at least started to hedge his bets, for example not reacting to the Syrian liberation of Aleppo from Ankara’s al-Qaeda clients. When Syrian forces relieved the ISIS siege of Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria in late 2017, and the Syrian army linked up with the Iraqi army (supported by the U.S. and Iran) at their common border, ISIS was almost finished as a territorial “caliphate.” This in turn has allowed Damascus to shift its focus elsewhere, notably to al-Qaeda-held Idlib. This wasn’t yet the end of the Syrian war but the end was coming into view.

Or so it seemed – which brings us back to U.S. policy.

In July 2017, Ankara had leaked the existence of U.S. bases in Kurdish-held northwestern Syria. Not that it matters to anyone in Washington, this presence is totally illegal under both U.S. law (there’s no Congressional authorization) and international law, which in U.S. politics counts for nothing (no UN Security Council authorization, no self-defense justification, and of course no invitation from the Syrian government). The U.S. presence with the Kurds is positioned on the eastern bank of the Euphrates River, while the Russians and Syrians stay mainly on the western bank. Aside from some scary air incidents, it seems both sides seem to have been careful not to come into conflict.

If Washington had been content to leave it that, President Donald Trump – who had campaigned on a promise to “crush and destroy ISIS” – was in a great position to declare victory and get out. Keep in mind that despite ordering a demonstrative cruise missile strike on a Syrian air base in April 2017 (in reprisal for a chemical attack that almost certainly was not the work of the Syrian government), he had not indicated an appetite for digging deeper into an involvement in a conflict where he had once praised Assad, Russia, and Iran for fighting ISIS. He even reportedly cut off CIA aid to “rebels,” i.e., al-Qaeda, in July.

That was then, this is now. The U.S. is not leaving Syria. The globalists, generals, and other Swamp-monsters, plus their Israeli and Saudi pals, have won and “America First!” has lost. Recently Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced a new “way forward” in Syria, which in effect is an old way backwards the Obama policy. There are five pillars:

  • Defeat of ISIS and al-Qaeda. [The first is almost finished in Syria and Iraq, and regarding the second there seems to be some confusion about whose side we’ve been on for almost seven years];
  • Assad must go [Seriously; the fact that regime change in Syria would mean curtains for the Christians evidently is of no concern in Washington];
  • Block the Iranians [The “Shiite crescent” bogeyman is now a “northern arch”];
  • Return of refugees to their homes [Is that why the U.S. and the EU maintain sanctions on government-held areas?]; and
  • No weapons of mass destruction [Someone seems to have picked up by mistake the old talking points regarding Iraq, circa 2002].

The linchpin of this concept, if it can be called that, is using the Kurds as America’s boots on the ground. (It should be noted that when CIA assistance to its al-Qaeda clients was stopped last year, the Pentagon’s support for the Kurdish YPG (Yekîneyên Parastina Gel, “People’s Protection Units”) was maintained or stepped up; at the time the move seemed largely a bureaucratic tiff between Langley and DoD. Now however there are rumblings that the CIA aid spigot may be turned back on.) But for Erdogan, the icing on the cake was U.S. announcement of plans to create a 30,000 “Border Security Force.” For Turkey, this amounts to U.S. sponsorship, perhaps with partition of Syria in mind, of a Kurdish quasi-state comparable to Iraqi Kurdistan, in league with the Kurdish PKK (Partiya Karkerên Kurdistanê, “Kurdistan Workers Party”) – designated a terrorist group by the U.S., Turkey, and NATO. Hence Erdogan’s claim he is acting against a U.S.-armed “terror army,” which he vows to “strangle … before it’s even born.”

Perhaps U.S. officials thought they could manage Ankara’s response, or that the bombastic Erdogan was just bluffing. If so, they were mistaken. It now remains to be seen how far the Turks plan, or are able, to advance in Afrin. There is also speculation whether an assault may also be directed toward Manbij in the main, eastern Kurdish-held area known as Rojava, where some 2,000 or more American troops are present. In addition, Erdogan, who has progressively dismantled the Kemalist secular order in Turkey seems bent on whipping the offensive up as an Islamic ideological jihad in 90,000 mosques across the country.

Afrin, with its rough terrain, is a tough nut to crack. Manbij might be even harder and risk confrontation with the U.S. In either case the Kurds are fighting on their home turf against the Turkish army with their local Turkmen militia and al-Qaeda allies. Damascus reportedly has allowed Kurds from the main Rojava area they hold further east to cross government-held territory to reinforce Afrin. Meanwhile, the expectation of some Kurds that the United States would create a “no-fly zone” to defend them from America’s own NATO ally was comically unrealistic.

While it’s hard to say in the short term if the Turks or Kurds will come out ahead, there’s no doubt that strategically the big loser is the U.S. – and it’s a totally self-inflicted wound. If Trump had stuck to his original goal of just defeating ISIS, he could take credit for the efforts of the Syrian army and Russian air force and soon truthfully proclaim “Mission Accomplished” (in contrast to George W. Bush’s notorious Iraq declaration in 2003). But now, with the foolish adventure into which his generals (National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, Defense Secretary James “Mad Dog” Mattis, and White House Chief of Staff John Kelly) have led him, with Tillerson’s agreement or acquiescence, he now has on his hands a conflict between our de jure NATO ally Turkey and our de facto ally, the Kurds.

If the Kurds win, Turkey is in effect lost to NATO – we’re close to that already. If Turkey wins, the misguided U.S. plan to stay in Syria is finished – a likely outcome anyway.

As far as the impact within Syria, the Kurds are about to find out, as did the Iraqi Kurds following their abortive independence declaration last year, that they likewise have pressed their luck too far and were foolish to count on “friends” in Washington, for whom they are disposable. In the end, the Turkish attack is likely to accelerate the Kurds’ outreach to Damascus, with whom they have never entirely burned their bridges.

January 25, 2018 Posted by | Wars for Israel | , , , | 1 Comment

SDF: American, British volunteers join fight against Turkey in Afrin

MEMO | January 24, 2018

American, British and German citizens are among other volunteers with the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that have joined the fight against Turkey in the Syrian province of Afrin, an official told Reuters earlier today.

Turkey’s offensive on the northern region, with the support of Free Syrian Army brigades, started on Saturday and has seen at least 260 Syrian Kurdish fighters and Daesh militants killed in its four-day-old attack.

SDF official Redur Xelil told reporters that foreign fighters among the SDF’s ranks had chosen to go to Afrin to support efforts against the Turkish assault.

“There was a desire on the part of the foreign fighters who fought in Raqqa and who are fighting in Deir Ez-Zor to go to Afrin,” Xelil said. “They will wage battles against the Turkish invasion.”

“There are Americans, Britons, Germans, different nationalities from Europe, Asia and America,” Xelil added.

Foreign fighters are not believed to make up a significant number of the SDF’s forces, with officials only stating they number in the “tens”.

The SDF is primarily made up of militants of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), an offshoot of the designated terrorist organisation, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). The group has launched continual attacks against Turkey for the past three decades and their intention to establish a state based on federalism in northern Syria, has prompted Ankara’s intervention since 2016.

Following a US announcement last week that the Trump Administration would continue to aid the SDF and aim to establish a 30,000 strong force along the Syrian border with Turkey, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned the decision and announced the start of Operation Olive Branch against SDF held regions.

Foreign fighters from the US and Europe have been free to join the SDF and fight alongside YPG forces, as well as return home.

However, those who seek to join other sides in the Syrian conflict do not face the same treatment, with UK Defence Secretary last month calling for British citizens fighting with Daesh abroad to be hunted down and killed. The policy was later criticised by terrorist watchdogs and human rights group who have accused the minster of advocating “war crimes”.

Earlier this month, France also refused the repatriation request of Emilie König, a Frenchwoman suspected of recruiting fighters for Daesh, who now regrets her decision to leave her country. In an interview with Radio RMC, France’s Justice Minister Nicole Belloubet, also said that French nationals who travelled to Syria to join Daesh could be tried by the SDF, signalling a de facto recognition of the autonomous Kurdish region, despite the group’s terrorist affiliations.

The SDF has been accused of numerous human rights violations in Iraq and Syria, including revenge attacks against civilians in former Daesh territories. Amnesty International is one of several NGOs that have recorded the SDF committing war crimes including displacing residents, razing homes, torture and extrajudicial killings.

January 24, 2018 Posted by | War Crimes | , , , , | 6 Comments

Sowing war and chaos: US continues meddling in Syria through the Kurds

Doubling down on the fixation with ousting Assad produces another US foreign policy disaster

By Alexander Mercouris – The Duran – January 23, 2018

On October 6th 2017 I wrote a lengthy article for The Duran in which I said that the US’s two previous plans in Syria having failed – Plan A being regime change through US backing of violent Jihadi groups, Plan B being the attempt to set up an anti Assad ‘Sunnistan’ in eastern Syria – the US was resorting to Plan C, which was to establish a US backed Kurdish protectorate in northern Syria, so as to undermine the Syrian government from within.

In that article I outlined in detail how that was being done, with the massive supply of arms to the YPG, the Kurdish militia in northern Syria, and through the permanent deployment of US troops in the Kurdish controlled regions of northern Syria.

I also outlined what I thought the likely consequences of this Plan C would be,

Consequences of the US’s Kurdish policy

What are the consequences of the US’s Plan C/’Kurdish’ strategy, and what are its prospects?   In summary there are five:

(1) it will prolong the conflicts in Syria and Iraq;

(2) it is delaying the final defeat of Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Syria and Iraq;

(3) it will make the Iraqi government align itself still more closely to Iran and Syria;

(4) it will strengthen hostility within Turkey to the US, and may make Turkey more inclined to seek regional alignments with the US’s Middle East rivals and enemies: Russia and Iran;

(5) it risks making the Kurds even more isolated in their region, whilst uniting the region against them.

I also said that though Plan C was rather more grounded in reality than Plan B since a Kurdish statelet in northern Syria had rather more coherence and reality than the eastern ‘Sunnistan’ proposed as Plan B, it was nonetheless in the long term unworkable, and the attempt to implement it would set the scene for the next US Middle East debacle.

Just two weeks later, with the Iraqi army’s successful offensive against the Iraqi Kurds in northern Iraq, and following the Iraqi army’s recapture from the Kurds of the key Iraqi oil town of Kirkuk, it appeared that this Plan C was already failing and on 19th October 2017 I wrote a further article for The Duran in which I said as much.

In the event, with a persistence worthy of a better cause the US despite the failure in Iraq has persisted with its Plan C.

Firstly the US announced that it intended to keep 2,000 US troops stationed (illegally) in Syria indefinitely, supposedly to prevent a ‘vacuum’ emerging there.

In reality the true number of US troops in Syria is much greater, and it is the presence of these troops which by preventing the restoration of the Syrian government’s authority across the whole of Syria is threatening to create a ‘vacuum’ there. Most, though not all, these US troops appear to be based in northern Syria, in territory controlled by the YPG.

Then the US announced that it was building up a 30,000 strong ‘border force’ in northern Syria, which it was clear would be built up around the Kurdish militia, the YPG.

The results have been very much as I predicted in my article of 6th October 2017.

Firstly, the US game with the Kurds in Syria has outraged the major regional powers: Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria.

Turkey’s President Erdogan has now launched his army and air force against the Syrian Kurds whom the US has been backing in their north Syrian enclave of Afrin.

In order to launch this attack Erdogan needed Moscow’s permission, the Russians having previously positioned military observers in Afrin.

A Turkish military delegation accordingly visited Moscow and obtained Moscow’s permission, resulting in the withdrawal of the Russian military observers from Afrin and the unimpeded operation of the Turkish air force there.

The Russians for their part attempted to persuade the Kurds to hand over Afrin to the Syrian government as a way of averting the Turkish attack. The Kurds, counting on US protection, however refused, with the result that they have quickly discovered that the US protection that they had counted on is nowhere to be seen, so that they now find themselves facing the Turkish army on their own.

In a bizarre twist, showing the extent of their confusion and possibly highlighting the internal criticism their leaders are coming under for putting so much trust in the US, the YPG is now blaming the Russians for the debacle.

We know that, without the permission of global forces and mainly Russia, whose troops located in Afrin, Turkey cannot attack civilians using Afrin air space. Therefore we hold Russia as responsible as Turkey and stress that Russia is the crime partner of Turkey in massacring the civilians in the region.

In the meantime, where a few weeks ago it appeared that ISIS in its fastnesses in eastern Syria was close to total collapse after coming under simultaneous attack by the Syrian army and the US backed Kurds, it is now back on the attack and has actually been able to recover some territory at the expense of the Kurds, who are having to transfer fighters to face the threat from the Turkish army in the north.

Meanwhile the Syrian army has been able to capitalise on Turkey’s focus on the Kurds to carry out major advances against the remaining Jihadi enclaves in western Syria near Damascus and in Idlib province, where the key Abu Duhur air base has now been recaptured from the Jihadis, and where large numbers of Jihadi fighters have been surrounded by the Syrian troops.

Latest reports from the normally reliable Al-Masdar news agency speak of continuing Syrian military advances deeper into Idlib province, with plans apparently being prepared for an offensive which will bring the Syrian army all the way up to the outskirts of Idlib city.

An article in the Guardian has now confirmed the critical role of the British government in egging the US on with Plan C as well as the extent of US and British dismay with the latest developments:

The problem for the west is that, as an endgame possibly approaches in Syria, it cannot afford to lose Turkish diplomatic support since Ankara has been the vital countervailing force to a Russian-imposed peace.

The Turkish preoccupation with the Syrian Kurds on its borders could lead to the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, reaching a deal with Damascus and Moscow.

The speech – in which the UK Foreign Office had a big hand – was something of a watershed and was under-appreciated in Europe. Previously, Trump’s policy on Syria was simply the destruction of Isis and an aversion to talk of nation-building. But the Tillerson speech has been widely criticised because it was long on aspiration but short on detailing the credible levers the US and the west have to pressure Moscow to abandon Assad.

Western diplomats say they have some stakes in the ground: the threat to withhold EU and US reconstruction funds, the promise to keep 2,000 US troops inside Syria indefinitely and a slightly confused commitment to help the Kurds form a border force inside northern Syria. British ministers also repeatedly warn that a Russian-imposed peace that simply leaves Assad in charge would not only be morally reprehensible but unstable…..

There is so much wrong with the thinking in this article that it is difficult to know where to start.

Firstly, it is grotesque to say that “a Russian-imposed peace that simply leaves Assad in charge would not only be morally reprehensible but unstable” when it is Western policy to use the Kurds to prolong the war in Syria in order to increase pressure on the Russians so as to get them to agree to having President Assad ousted which is the true and obvious cause of the continuing instability there.

Secondly, to suppose that Turkey would stand idly by whilst the US armed the Kurds to fight President Assad’s government when Turkey is already fighting a Kurdish insurgency on its own territory was beyond farfetched. It should have been obvious that any policy of this kind that relied upon both Turkey and the Kurds in order to succeed was bound to fail.

Thirdly, the idea that the Western powers can ‘pressure’ Russia into ‘abandoning’ President Assad now that President Assad is in secure control of Damascus, Aleppo, Homs, Hama, Deir Ezzor, all of Syria’s main cities, and in fact every part of what constitutes ‘useful Syria’, when Russia previously refused to abandon him when the territory under his control was reduced to a small coastal strip and he was about to lose control of Deir Ezzor and Aleppo, is beyond delusional.

Now that the Turkish army is pressing deep into Afrin, with the US and the Western powers as the Guardian article says unable to stop it, the Guardian article refers to what is rapidly becoming the default Western position in northern Syria: abandon the Kurds and hand over to Turkey and its Jihadi allies a strip of northern Syria as a ‘security zone’ at the Kurds’ expense:

The US can argue it tolerated Kurdish territorial expansions across northern Syria, and specifically west of the Euphrates river, only so long as the Kurdish militias inside the Syrian Democratic Forces were needed to defeat Isis, but now that battle has been won the US priority is to stop the freefall in its relations with Turkey. If that means a temporary Turkish foothold in the patchwork that is Syria, so be it.

One might even call it Plan D.

That this is indeed the emerging policy – though some US officials still seem to be unaware of the fact – has now been confirmed by Rex Tillerson, the US’s hapless Secretary of State, who speaking of Turkey is reported to have said the following:

Let us see if we can work with you to create the kind of security zone you might need.

What this ignores is that this policy is every bit unworkable as the Plans A, B and C which preceded it.

Firstly, the duplicity towards the Kurds is nothing short of staggering. Having armed the Kurds and encouraged them to create their own statelet in northern Syria in order to fight ISIS and destabilise the government in Damascus, the US is now preparing to abandon them to Turkey as soon as the going gets difficult.

Needless to say duplicity of this order is going to shatter trust in the US both amongst the Kurds and even in Turkey, which is not likely to forget any time soon the game the US attempted to play with the Kurds in Syria at its expense.

Secondly, Turkey’s Jihadi allies have repeatedly shown their lack of military effectiveness. It is all but inconceivable that they can control territory in northern Syria in the face of opposition from both the Kurds and the local Arab people without the protection on the ground of the Turkish army.

However whether the Turkish army would be prepared to remain entrenched forever in northern Syria facing what is likely to become before long a guerrilla war waged against it by both the Kurds and the local Arab population backed by the Syrian government in Damascus is problematic to say the least.

My opinion is that that is all but inconceivable, in which case Plan D is as unworkable as Plans A, B and C.

Thirdly, despite the Kurdish complaints about ‘betrayal’ by Russia, the likely consequence of the latest events is that over time it will oblige the Kurds to rein in their regional aspirations and seek to come to terms with the government in Damascus, just as the Russians have been urging them to do.

By any objective measure the Kurds in both Syria and Iraq have in recent years grossly overplayed their hand.

They used the US induced internal crises in Syria and Iraq to forge all but independent areas within those countries. They then expanded these zones far beyond their natural limits, bringing under their control large areas with predominantly Arab populations.

Then as the internal crises within Syria and Iraq abated, instead of leveraging the strong position they had achieved to come to terms with the governments of those countries so as to hold on to their gains, the Kurds went for broke, and gambling on US promises of support, they pitched for what amounted to outright independence, in Syria de facto, in Iraq de jure.

As a result they antagonised all the regional powers and Russia, bringing down upon themselves the wrath of Iraq and Turkey, and finding themselves isolated, when they discovered in Iraq in October and in Syria now that the promise of US support had no reality behind it.

The result is that when they were attacked by the Iraqi army in October and by the Turkish army now they found that they had no one to look to but themselves.

Pressure of events if nothing else will now probably force the Kurds in Syria to come to terms, however grudgingly, with the Russians and with the Syrian government in Damascus.

That would obviously mean accepting the overall authority of the government in Damascus in return for whatever form of autonomy the Russians can negotiate for them.

That is the only realistic way that the Kurds in Syria – who ultimately account for no more than 8% of Syria’s population – can secure protection for themselves provided by Russia, which as recent events have shown is the only secure form of protection that can be relied upon in this region.

As for the US and its Western allies, the time has come – in fact it is long overdue – for them to commit themselves to some serious rethinking.

The strategy of regime change in Syria which was launched in 2011 has decisively failed.

There is no realistic possibility of the US persuading Russia to abandon President Assad and agreeing to regime change in Syria, and no realistic way the US can bring about regime change in Syria without Russia’s agreement.

That means that regime change in Syria is impossible and is not going to happen.

With the Syrian government in Damascus now secure and gaining daily in power and confidence, it is now only a matter of time before it regains full control of all Syrian territory.

All the various plans to keep Syria weak and divided by playing Sunnis against Alawites, Kurds against Arabs, and Turks against Kurds and Syrians, can only delay this outcome, not prevent it, and can only do so only at horrific cost, whilst setting up the US for further humiliation

This is because the only practical effect of these plans is to increase the Syrian government’s dependence on Moscow and Tehran, thereby strengthening Syria’s alliances with Russia and Iran and weakening the regional geopolitical position of the US.

In reality if the US’s objective really were to limit or even extinguish Russian and Iranian influence in Syria – as it claims – then the only way it could do this would be by coming to terms with the Syrian government in Damascus, which is the legitimate government of Syria recognised as such by the overwhelming majority of Syria’s people, so as to persuade it to limit or cut its ties to Russia and Iran so as to reduce or extinguish the influence of these countries in Syria.

That would involve giving the Syrian government security guarantees that it could trust and economic aid to rebuild Syria, in return for its agreement to limit or close the Russian and Iranian bases which are now starting to appear on Syria’s territory.

Whether such a thing is now possible is another matter. However the modern history of the Middle East is such an appalling catalogue of duplicity that I for one would not say it was impossible if it were ever seriously attempted.

Already there are rumours that some officials within the Syrian government in Damascus are uneasy about the over close relations (as they see it) which Syria now has with Iran, and the problems which they think these are causing Syria.

However if the US is going to embark upon this genuinely realistic foreign policy then it must end its maniacal fixation with the person of Bashar Al-Assad, and it must tell its allies in Britain, Saudi Arabia and Israel that they must do the same.

Putting aside the disaster this fixation has caused to the people of Syria, who have had to endure seven years of war because of it, its only result has been to strengthen Syria’s alliances with Iran, Russia and more recently Iraq, thereby weakening the geopolitical position in the Middle East of the US.

As ought to be obvious, doubling down on this fixation can only spell more disaster further down the line, and the latest debacle in northern Syria which has resulted in fighting between the US backed Kurds and the US’s NATO ally Turkey ought to underline this fact.

However because this obvious truth is one which continues to be passionately resisted in Washington – not to mention in London, Jerusalem and Riyadh – it looks to be rejected, opening the way for still more disasters to come.

January 23, 2018 Posted by | Illegal Occupation, Timeless or most popular, War Crimes, Wars for Israel | , , , , , | 1 Comment