Turkey

Erdogan’s Idlib Misadventure: Reality Checks and Hard Lessons for Turkey

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 04/04/2020 - 2:17am in

Even when viewed through the prism of Turkish interests, President Tayyib Erdogan’s escalatory actions in Syria’s Idlib governorate constitute now plainly evident blunder. Refusing to finally abandon its occupation of Idlib has so far produced numerous setbacks for Turkey, visible to all but the brashest of Erdogan’s diehard supporters. It also threatens to damage Turkey’s ability to leverage its ties with numerous foreign powers that enable it to invest in its overseas adventures in the first place.

Turkey deployed large numbers of troops and artillery to Idlib to fight the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) as it began operations in February to retake Idlib while colluding with the a-Qaeda-linked terrorist group, Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS). With a Russian no-fly zone imposed over Idlib and strong Russian aerial support and material supplies, the SAA moved on Idlib with the goal of destroying HTS. The Turks subsequently lost ground and Erdogan hurriedly sought Russia’s assistance for a ceasefire.

As noted by Turkish analyst Cengiz Candar, Erdogan was clearly the junior partner in the equation as he failed to secure a visit from Russian President Vladimir Putin to Turkey and was instead received in Moscow in a rather humiliating fashion:

The most striking humiliation of the Turkish guests appeared in the choreography of the meeting. Footage showed the crowded Turkish delegation standing under an imposing statue of Catherine the Great, the Russian empress who annexed Crimea from Ottoman Turkey in 1783 and defeated the Ottomans several times in the Russo-Turkish wars in 1768-74 and 1787-1792. To add insult to injury, Erdogan was seated next to Putin under a bronze sculpture of Russian soldiers of the fateful Russian-Turkish War that ended in Ottoman Turkey’s defeat in 1878.”

The ceasefire terms Erdogan finally obtained from Putin during his March 5 visit were a far cry from the first major Erdogan-Putin brokered ceasefire in Idlib, the Sochi Agreement inked in September 2018. While the Sochi Agreement had de facto allowed Turkey to maintain forces inside Idlib, neither Sochi or the March 5 ceasefire entailed or was followed by tangible steps that would ensure Turkey rid Idlib of terrorist groups such as HTS. In fact, the March 5 ceasefire forced Turkey to swallow some bitter pills.

Putin and Erdogan Moscow meeting

Putin, second from right, and Erdogan, center, talk during their meeting in the Kremlin during the March 5, 2020 meeting in Moscow. Pavel Golovkin | AP

The ceasefire, which began in earnest on March 6, did not address the issue of the Turkish military observation posts that found themselves surrounded by the SAA’s advance. This effectively left their fate in the hands of their enemy. While Turkey can leverage Russia to oversee the continuation of supplies to these posts, their stranded status itself marks another Turkish failure in Idlib.

Additionally, the ceasefire terms imposed by Russia meant that Erdogan’s previously-successful tightrope act of using militant extremists (such as HTS) as proxies while continuing to have de-facto Russian acquiescence to extended Turkish military presence in Syria, was no longer tenable. It did this by declaring four-mile deep security zones to be jointly patrolled by Turkish and Russian forces to the north and south of the vital M4 Highway, leaving Erdogan with an easy choice: foster terrorists within the same vicinity as Russian forces and severely antagonize a vital partner state or remove them from the zones.

As noted by al-Masdar News, the deal allowed Syria to keep the ground it gained and paved the way for the eventual liberation of the M4 Highway from terrorists without Turkey intervening to protect them. Syria already liberated another vital road, the M5 Highway, prior to the ceasefire and maintained control of it.

That the deal represented Russia punishing Turkey, even if without drastic measures, for pushing the envelope too far vis a vis its actions inside Syrian territory exemplifies the extent of Turkey’s blunders in Idlib. This is because Russia, even after Erdogan’s constant disregard for the Sochi Agreement’s terms regarding terrorist groups, tended to cooperate with Turkey a great deal in Syria.

 

The Ill-conceived Idlib adventure damages Turkey’s credibility

A key example of such generous Russian assistance to Turkey was the October 22, 2019, Putin-Erdogan Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). The MoU ended Turkey’s successful Operation Peace Spring that month against its Kurdish enemies who were entrenched with U.S. support in northeastern Syria. It also ‘legitimized’ Turkey’s military presence in the areas consolidated by granting it a 32-kilometer deep safe zone. The Kurds were also mandated to be disarmed and incorporated into the Syrian military, over which Russia possesses considerable leverage.

Russia is unlikely to try to force an abrupt Turkish withdrawal, but it has clarified to Erdogan that his Idlib policies are an irritant in Russia-Turkey ties.

The United States – who Turkey’s operation successfully forced to make the tactically-easy choice to abandon the landlocked ethno-secessionist Kurds of the ‘Syrian Democratic Forces’ in deference to NATO member Turkey – approved the MoU’s status quo. However, Turkey remained well aware of the increasingly anti-Turkish Congress heatedly opposing the operation due to support for the SDF by Israel and its powerful U.S. lobbyists, giving Erdogan even more reason to view Russia as a partner.

The most striking example of Russia’s accommodation of Erdogan’s ambitions was the MoU indirectly greenlighting his plans to demographically engineer northeastern Syria away from a Kurdish majority. It did so by affirming Turkey’s ‘right’ to resettle Syrian refugees in Syria without demarcating a specific area for this important function, leaving the choice to Turkey.

Syria Idlib refugees

Syrian refugees travel en masse through the town of Hazano in Idlib province, Jan. 27, 2020. Ghaith Alsayed | AP

Erdogan with his latest actions thus irritated a vital partner, making himself look even worse in the process with erratic requests to the U.S. and NATO for assistance. The latter’s assistance came in rhetoric only, dismissing any prospects of intervention on Turkey’s behalf in Idlib.

The Idlib fiasco has, however, confronted Turkey with more than just lessons on the pitfalls of investing in dangerous foreign policy ventures based on an over-estimation of its own power. It has confronted the uncomfortable Turks with a much broader, deeper lesson: that opportunities presented to them by malignant foreign powers to gain military, economic and strategic hegemony at the expense of neighboring states will ultimately lead to their own isolation and downfall and that coexistence with neighboring states in defiance of such tempting opportunities is in Turkey’s best interest.

 

Why Turkey’s own interests demand peace with Syria

This lesson, in fact, was alluded to relatively recently by Syrian President Bashar al Assad, who reasonably stated in an interview on March 4 that socio-cultural factors made Turkey and Syria’s nations share ‘brotherly’ ties. Assad reiterated his past stance that conflict between Turkey and Syria – and Turkey’s military presence in Syria – was pointless.

But will Turkey embrace this understanding or eschew it? Whatever path it chooses, there seems due to be due recognition and acknowledgment among Turkey’s policymakers of recent events in Idlib as marking a turning point in Turkey’s regional posture and foreign relations.

On this note, Turkish strategic analyst and former military advisor Metin Gurcan asserts that the tumult in Idlib has brought Turkey to a crossroads in its geostrategic orientation. According to Gurcan, powers in Turkey have split with regard to Turkey’s path forward after the events in Idlib and a ‘moment of truth’ is approaching regarding choosing whether Turkey embraces neighborly coexistence or continued conflict:

The choice they face is not an easy one. Continued alignment with the Russian-Iranian axis dictates reconciliation with Assad in northern Syria, while opting for collaboration with the US-Israeli axis would require Turkey to soften its hard-line stance on the PKK-affiliated YPG. By relying on its own military capacity, meanwhile, it would run the risk of showdowns with Washington, Moscow, Tehran and Damascus on the battlefield.”

A Turkey which has adequately learned its lessons from Idlib will not see reconciliation with Assad as a caveat in embracing regional powers such as Iran and Russia, which lack the appetite for conflagration in Syria that the U.S. and Israel do. It will, in fact, withdraw from all Syrian territory as been all-too-prudent since Turkey dismantled the only understandable threat to its security in the form of the Kurdish contras in October of last year. Turkey needs cordial ties with Syria’s allies in Russia and Iran, both of whose highly differing reasons for supporting Damascus intertwine at the consensus on the need to rid it of extremist terrorists which Turkey has seen for too long as proxies.

Turkey’s ties with the powers that have facilitated the ravaging of Syria by war and terrorism already exhibited a clear downward trend. With regard to the U.S., Erdogan cannot – as some in Turkey hope – leverage his personal rapport with U.S. President Donald Trump enough to overcome the rising anti-Turkey sentiment in the U.S. Congress and media.

Turkey’s dreams of joining the European Union (EU) can also be said to be dead, especially after Erdogan took to utilizing the threat of launching refugees at EU shores for the EU’s perceived intransigence toward his interests and demands in Syria.

Russia and Iran thus assume heightened importance for a Turkey driven by rationality and not hot-headed power-grabs such as in Idlib, which they both disapprove of. Russia has proven an efficient means for Turkey to hedge its bets when greeted with indifference from the West and Turkey has availed it as such amply in the past, going through with joint ventures opposed vehemently by the U.S., such as the purchase of Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems and economic projects such as the TurkStream gas pipeline.

Iran, for its part, is beginning to be seen by Turkey as a means of responding to the downward trends in Israel-Turkey ties, albeit in a less visible manner than Russia has in regards to the U.S. and EU. Just as Turkey and Israel experience a ‘falling out’ over issues ranging from dominance over Eastern Mediterranean gas reserves to the Israeli alliance with the anti-Turkish Gulf Arabs (GCC) and the rival factions Turkey and Israel back in the Libyan Civil War, Turkey can be seen developing a closer understanding with Iran on these very issues.

Turkey would serve both itself and the region better if it were to acknowledge Assad’s view of the Turkish and Syrian peoples having no genuine quarrels with each other and scale back its concept of Turkish interests which involve creating such quarrels. If anything, Turkey should withdraw from Syria and concentrate efforts toward Libya, where the UN-recognized Government of National Accord controls less territory than the Israeli-GCC backed warlord, General Khalifa Haftar, and is economically and militarily weaker.

If, however, it continues to escalate matters in Idlib, where terrorists have not respected the March 5 ceasefire, Turkey will erode its ties to both Russia and Iran. Its own case in Libya will weaken and it will find itself not only back in the U.S. and Israeli camp, but actively over-reliant on it. In view of all these factors, Erdogan would do well to interpret Assad’s comments on Syrian-Turkish relations as an invitation toward better ties and accept it enthusiastically.

Feature photo | Graphic by Claudio Cabrera

Agha Hussain is an independent researcher based in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. He specialized in Middle Eastern affairs and history and is an editorial contributor to Eurasia Future, Regional Rapport and other news outlets. Read more of his work on his personal blog.

The post Erdogan’s Idlib Misadventure: Reality Checks and Hard Lessons for Turkey appeared first on MintPress News.

A Multiple Language Dictionary for Archaeologists

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/03/2020 - 3:03am in

Anna Kieburg, The Archaeological Excavation Dictionary (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Archaeology 2016).

This was another book I got from the bargain book mail order company, Postscript. It’s a dictionary of archaeological words, with over 2,000 entries, in English, German, French, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Turkish and Arabic. The Arabic and Greek words are also given in those languages’ alphabets as well as in an English transliteration.

I’m putting this up as archaeology truly is an international discipline. Both professionals, students and volunteers travel across the world to work on digs. There is a guide book, published annually, for volunteers wishing to work on various digs right across the globe, in Europe, America and elsewhere. Also, I’ve noticed that some of the books published by the archaeological publishers, like Oxbow, are also in foreign languages. In the case of Oxbow, it’s mostly French or German.

Archaeology is a truly international subject, with professionals, students and volunteers travelling to digs right across the world. There’s a guide, published annually, for people to wishing to work on them, listing sites in the Americas, Europe and so on, and what they need to take with them. I’m putting the book up on this blog as I thought it might be useful for other archaeologists, or ordinary people interested in archaeology, once the world’s recovered from the Coronavirus and everything’s started up again.

But thinking about archaeology and languages, I wonder if anyone’s ever published such a dictionary for the Celtic languages in the UK? I know the vast majority of people in Britain can speak English, and I doubt if anyone on a site has ever been asked if they could explain what they’ve found in Welsh, Gaelic or Erse, but still, there might be a demand by local people in areas where those languages are spoken for someone to say something about them in them, if only as a source of local pride and individuality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Death at the Border: Syrian Refugees Should Not Be Used as Political Pawns

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/03/2020 - 1:27am in

Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced in a surprising move on February 29 that he would be reopening his country’s border to Europe, allowing tens of thousands of mostly Syrian refugees into Greece and other European countries.

Expectedly, over 100,000 people rushed to the Ipsala border point in the Edirne province separating Turkey from Greece, hoping to make it through the once-porous border.

Even though the sea route was not initially opened for the refugees, many attempted to brave the sea anyway, using small fishing boats and dinghies. A few have reportedly reached the Greek Islands.

What transpired was one of the most tragic, heart-rendering episodes of the Syrian war and the subsequent refugee crisis saga.

This time around, Greece, with tacit political support from the rest of the European Union, was determined not to allow any of the refugees into its territories.

The prevailing understanding in Europe is that the Turkish government was purposely engineering a refugee crisis to press the EU into supporting Turkish military operations in Idlib in northern Syria.

“They didn’t come here on their own,” the Greek Public Order Minister, Michalis Chrysohoidis, told reporters on February 29, with reference to the flood of refugees at his country’s border. “They are being sent away and being used by (our) neighbor, Turkey,” he added.

While the media focused mostly on Erdogan’s decision within the context of the Idlib conflict, little mention was made of the fact that Syrian and other refugees in Turkey have been the focal point of an internal crisis within the country itself.

The Istanbul mayoral election (held on March 31 and, again, on June 23) underscored the anti-refugee sentiment among ordinary Turks, one that is compounded by the fact that Turkey itself has been subjected to a protracted economic recession.

Unsurprisingly, the over 3.5 million Syrian refugees who had fled the war in their country over the last decade are being scapegoated by opportunistic politicians, the likes of Istanbul’s new Mayor, Ekrem Imamoglu

“Imamoglu was  … able to tap into simmering discontent with the large number of Syrian refugees in Istanbul in the context of his general complaints about the high level of unemployment in the city,” wrote Bulent Aliriza and Zeynep Ekeler on the Center for Strategic and International Studies website.

The Turkish government is now fully aware of the obvious correlation in the minds of many Turkish voters between the oppressive economic crisis and the Syrian refugee population in Turkey.

In fact, a recurring argument made by the Turkish government is that its military campaign in northern Syria is ultimately motivated by its desire to create a safe zone that would allow for the resettlement of many Syrian refugees.

With its NATO alliance faltering, and with growing difficulties at the northern Syrian front, Turkey’s strategy quickly fell apart. However, the scenes of naked, shivering refugees running back to the Turkish side, after being pushed away by Greek military and police was not only indicative of Turkey’s growing political dilemma, but of Europe’s betrayal of Syrian refugees and its utter incompetence in fashioning long-term solutions to a crisis that has been brewing for years.

On March 18, 2016, Turkey and EU countries signed the statement of cooperation, which resulted in a short-lived barter. According to the deal, Turkey agreed to stem the flow of refugees into Europe in exchange for economic incentives to help Ankara cope with the economic burden, partly resulting from the refugee crisis.

Aside from the fact that Turkey has claimed that the EU failed to fulfill its part of the deal, the agreement did not offer a long-term solution, let alone a political vision that would ultimately end the suffering of millions of Syrians.

What makes the Syrian refugee crisis within the Turkish-EU context particularly complex is the fact that the refugees are finding themselves hostage to selfish, political calculations that view them as a burden or a pawn.

This unfortunate reality has left Syrian refugees in Turkey with three options, all of which are dismal: returning to a war zone in Syria, coping with unemployment and an increasingly hostile political environment in Turkey or making a run for the Greek border.

When Ahmed Abu Emad, a young Syrian refugee from Aleppo, opted for the third and final option on March 2, he was shot in the throat by Greek border police. His fellow refugees rushed his gaunt body back to Turkey, where he was laid to rest.

Considering their limited options, however, neither death, injury nor torture will end the quest of Syrian refugees, who are desperately trying, as they have for years, to find a safe space and badly needed respite.

Perhaps only Palestinian refugees can relate to the dilemma of their Syrian brethren. It is one thing to be pushed out of your homeland, but it is a whole different thing to be refused, dehumanized and subjugated everywhere else.

The Syrian refugee crisis is a political, not a humanitarian crisis – despite the palpable humanitarian component of it. Therefore, it can only be resolved based on a comprehensive political solution that keeps the interest of millions of Syrian refugees – in fact, the Syrian people as a whole – as a top priority.

Several ‘solutions’ have been devised in the past but they have all failed, simply because various governments in the Middle East and Europe have tried to exploit the refugees for their own political, economic, and ‘security’ interests.

The time has come for a more considerate and thoughtful political strategy that is predicated on respect for international and humanitarian laws, one that adheres to the Geneva Conventions regarding the rights of war refugees.

Syrian refugees do not deserve such inhumane treatment. They have a country, glorious history and a deeply-rooted culture that has profoundly influenced ancient and modern civilizations. They deserve respect, rights, and safety. Equally important, they should not be used as pawns in a costly and dirty political game in which they have no interest or choice.

Feature photo | Refugees walk next to discarded shoes and boots outside the perimeter of the overcrowded Moria refugee camp on the northeastern Aegean island of Lesbos, Greece, March 11, 2020. Aggelos Barai | AP

Ramzy Baroud is a journalist and the Editor of The Palestine Chronicle. He is the author of five books. His latest is “These Chains Will Be Broken: Palestinian Stories of Struggle and Defiance in Israeli Prisons” (Clarity Press, Atlanta). Dr. Baroud is a Non-resident Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Islam and Global Affairs (CIGA), Istanbul Zaim University (IZU). His website is www.ramzybaroud.net

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The Battle for Idlib: Did Erdogan Capitulate to Putin in Moscow?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 11/03/2020 - 4:21am in

There was a celebration in Syria when Russia announced a ceasefire agreement with Turkey on March 3 following a six-hour meeting between Presidents Erdogan and Putin in Moscow. Under the agreement, Erdogan agreed to pull back Turkish forces and not to contest territory that Syria had recently reclaimed from terrorist groups in eastern Aleppo and southern Idlib provinces. In fact, Turkey agreed not to intervene against Syrian troops in any of the areas from which it pulled back, in effect allowing Syrian forces to reclaim even more of its territory from terrorists in southern Idlib.

The agreement appeared to be a capitulation by Erdogan, who, prior to his trip to Moscow, had been demanding that Syria return the reclaimed territory under terms of the Astana agreement inked in September 2018. Syria, on the other hand, argued that Turkey had not fulfilled its obligations under the agreement, thereby allowing Syria to use its military to enforce the terms against the terrorist groups occupying Syrian territory.  

But when the Syrians expelled the forces of al-Qaeda affiliate Hayat Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) from towns and villages along the previous ceasefire lines, Turkey reacted by sending thousands of Turkish reinforcements and massive armaments to the aid of its terrorist allies. Dozens of Turkish troops were killed and Turkey threatened to take direct military action to repel Syrian forces.

Turkish militants Syria

Turkish backed Syrian militants gather near the village of Neirab, in Idlib, Syria, Feb. 24, 2020. Ghaith Alsayed | AP

How did Turkish demands change so drastically after the Moscow meeting? Was it a capitulation as many Syrians seemed to think? What did Putin say that led Erdogan to an apparent about-face? Did Erdogan really concede in exchange for essentially nothing in return?

A possible clue is a statement by Erdogan to the Turkish parliament on March 4, claiming Idlib as part of the Turkish “homeland.” This will surprise no one familiar with Erdogan’s territorial ambitions toward parts of the former Ottoman Empire.  Erdogan is, in fact, sometimes referred to as “Sultan” or “Caliph” in the press, a moniker he doesn’t seem to mind. He has brought thousands of Chinese Uyghurs and other nationalities to fight against the Syrian government and has invited their families to settle in Idlib, where schools now teach students in Turkish instead of Syria’s native Arabic. Erdogan’s intent is clearly to colonize that part of Syria.

 

Erdogan’s quid pro quo

Is this the quid that Erdogan got in exchange for the quo with Putin? The terms of the agreement call for a Turkish withdrawal to the north of the M4 highway but assure a separation with Syrian forces to the south to be enforced by joint Russian-Turkish patrols in a 12-kilometer wide demilitarized zone (DMZ) along the M4. Is this not in effect a gift of a portion of Idlib province to Turkey – a quasi-permanent Turkish occupation zone inside of Syria? Is Turkey saying that if Israel is allowed to occupy the Golan Heights and the U.S. the eastern Syrian oil fields, why shouldn’t Turkey be allowed its piece of the colonialist pie? Of course, we cannot know for certain that such a gift was part of the Moscow understanding. At most, it’s implied by the separation protocol along the M4. But Erdogan is not known for quietly making deals that are to his disadvantage.

Some will point out that the agreement reinforces the wording of the Astana accord, respecting Syrian sovereignty in all Syrian territory. Unfortunately, this provision lacks implementation other than by the Syrian army, and the Russian-Turkish patrols specified in the Moscow agreement would seem to assure that the Syrian army will be kept at bay. Erdogan can afford to be generous with wording that has no backing.

A further consideration is that the Moscow negotiation was conducted between Russia and Turkey only, not Syria, with the exception of updates via telephone. Of course, Syria is a valued ally of Russia, which prefers to respect Syrian interests. But Russia also has interests, which are not necessarily the same as Syria’s. Russia supports Syria but tries to keep good relations with Turkey. Unfortunately, the Idlib conflict has come close to forcing Russia to make a choice between the two, with several close confrontations between Turkish and Russian forces. 

Russia wants to avoid such a choice, and remain on good terms with both Syria and Turkey. So why would Russia not be willing to make a compromise? Why not – from the Russian point of view – let Turkey keep a corner of Syria for an extended, possibly indefinite, period of time in exchange for both sides accomplishing their short term goals? 

Of course, this is not explicitly spelled out in the agreement, but if Turkey really wishes to respect Syrian sovereignty, why does it not pull back behind the Turkish border rather than the M4 DMZ? Why have a DMZ at all? How does it protect Syrian sovereignty? On the contrary, it protects Turkish “sovereignty” on Syrian soil from possible confrontation with Syrian troops. In fact, Russian troops have already escorted 13 convoys of Turkish troops to Idlib city, just north of the DMZ, as if to prove the point, while Syrian troops are busy mopping up the territories to the south, without Turkish opposition.

Clearly the M4 DMZ is intended as a barrier, with Turkish troops on one side and Syrians on the other with Russians in between.  How long will this barrier remain in place? Syrian optimists argue that it is very temporary. But if Russia has decided that a gift of a small piece of Syrian territory is a small price to pay for getting out of a very dangerous situation, what can Syria do about it? Syria cannot afford to split with Russia over such an issue, and will defer any action to recover the rest of Idlib province until… when? Perhaps the case of Korea is instructive.

Feature photo | Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses to his ruling party’s legislator at parliament, in Ankara, Turkey, Feb. 19, 2020. Burhan Ozbilici | AP

The post The Battle for Idlib: Did Erdogan Capitulate to Putin in Moscow? appeared first on MintPress News.

Erdogan & Putin’s Moscow Meeting

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 07/03/2020 - 7:00am in

Eric Zuesse On Thursday, March 5th, Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan met privately with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, as to arrange a face-saving way for Erdogan finally to end his attempted theft of Syria’s Idlib Province away from Syria — his attempt to seize it for Turkey. According to Middle East Eye, on Saturday …

The New Idlib Ceasefire Forces Turkey-Backed Extremists to Fall Back

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 07/03/2020 - 5:13am in

Mideast Discourse — Turkey increased its military invasion of Syria last month to prevent the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) from liberating Idlib province from the occupation of terrorists, who are supported by Turkey and had been supported by the US before 2017 when President Trump cut off their funding through the CIA.

The invasion of thousands of troops has been disastrous for Turkey since 58 soldiers were killed, including 33 in a recent airstrike.

The SAA is the only Syrian national armed forces, and are backed by Syrian and Russian air forces, while their current military mission is to liberate the last territory held by the Al Qaeda affiliate, Hay’at Tahrir al-sham, formerly called Jibhat al Nusra.

Turkey shot down a Syrian jet on Tuesday over Idlib, which brought Turkey closer to a direct conflict with Russia, even though they have shared interests outside of Syria.  Previously, Turkey had shot down 2 additional Syrian jets, while the Turkish lost over 10 military-grade drones.

Russia Turkey Syria Idlib CartoonTurkish President Erdogan has called on the US and NATO for military assistance in Idlib, but both have refused to assist him propping-up Al Qaeda in Idlib.

The Turkish parliament erupted into a fist-fight on Wednesday as the AK party of Erdogan clashed with opposition parties concerned about the increasing loss of Turkish lives in Idlib.  The AK party is a Muslim Brotherhood party that shares the same political ideology as Al Qaeda, hoping to create an Islamic state in Idlib.  Even though the AK Party is the ruling party, modern Turkey was founded on secular values, and the support of extremists in Idlib has caused the country to be divided.

The fighting in Idlib has driven nearly a million people from homes that are not their own, as they were squatters.  These civilians are the wives, children and elderly relatives of the terrorists. The original homeowners of Idlib left years ago, fleeing from the terrorists.

 

Russia’s role in the global war on terror

In September 2015 Russia was formally requested to come to the military aid of Syria in the global fight on terrorism. An agreement was made between Turkey and Russia in 2018 in Sochi, and Turkey had vowed to remove all Al Qaeda terrorists and to safely separate the unarmed civilians from fighters.

On Wednesday, Russia’s Defense Ministry said Turkey had violated earlier negotiated agreements with Moscow, accusing Ankara of providing direct military aid to terrorist groups in Idlib who routinely fire on Russia’s main base in the region.

President Putin’s message to Erdogan has always been simple: Stop supporting the Al Qaeda terrorists in Idlib, who are banned by the UN, the US and the EU, and leave Syria.

 

President Assad’s interview

Yesterday, Rossiya-24 channel aired an interview with President Assad.  “I’ve said many times that Idlib, from a military point of view, is a stepping stone, and they put all their forces to stop its liberation so we can’t proceed to the east,” Assad said, accusing Turkey, the US and NATO of trying to stop Syria’s military progress.

The SAA recaptured the strategic town of Saraqeb in Idlib on Monday, and  Russia’s defense ministry said it has deployed military police there “to ensure the safety and unhindered movement of vehicles and civilians along the M4 and M5 highways”.

 

US Ambassadors in Idlib

US Ambassador James Jeffrey, a special representative for Syria, and US Ambassador to the UN Kelly Craft, both visited the border at Idlib on Tuesday in a show of support for Turkey and the terrorists. On February 5 Ambassador Jeffrey had said he was very concerned about Idlib because of past chemical attacks there and acknowledged about 10,000 Al Qaeda terrorists were present. He failed to acknowledge investigative reports which point to the terrorists as the source of chemical attacks in the past and called on the Pentagon to establish a no-fly zone, apparently disregarding the fact that would entail a full US invasion of Syria and confrontation with Russia. Jeffrey also requested the US to deploy Patriot batteries to Turkey, a request which was vigorously denied by the Department of Defense, who are angry at Turkey for choosing the Russian S-400 over the American equivalent.

Ambassador Kelly Craft called for an immediate ceasefire in Idlib and urged Moscow to ground its jets. “As President Trump has made clear, the [Bashar] Assad regime, Russia, and Iran must halt their offensive before more innocent civilians are killed and displaced,” Craft said in a statement. “Humanitarian aid is only a response, but the solution is an immediate ceasefire,” Craft told reporters on the border.

 

Will Trump step in to save Erdogan?

President Donald Trump had stated his plan to reduce the US role in the Middle East, and instead to allow Russia to deal with the Syrian crisis, but aides have pressured him to back-track.

Even though Ambassador Jeffrey wants the US to send military equipment to Turkey, the office of the Secretary of Defense is refusing, seeing that as reckless and unproductive.

 

White Helmets and humanitarian enablers

Kelly Craft and James Jeffrey met on Tuesday at Idlib’s border with Syrian NGO representatives and the ‘White Helmets’, while pledging $108 million in aid for the Syrian people.  However, this generous aid helps only those in the small province of Idlib. This marks the first time the Trump administration has let US aid flow into Syria since the White House refused to allow assistance approved by Congress to be appropriated last year. Craft announced the aid package, and said it was for “the people of Syria in response to the ongoing crisis caused by Assad regime, Russian, and Iranian forces”.  She never mentioned the poor and hungry residents of Aleppo, Homs, Latakia, and Damascus, who are suffering from the US-EU sanctions which prevent work, industry, and rebuilding, and will never receive any of the US aid.

The UN is increasing assistance to Idlib and will double the number of trucks it sends across the border to 100 each day according to Mark Lowcock, the United Nations humanitarian affairs coordinator.

The UN and all the other humanitarian aid agencies are enabling the occupation of Idlib by Al Qaeda to continue. These groups keep the terrorists and their families well cared for, and they never have to face defeat or expulsion.  Turkey and the international community are containing the terrorists in Idlib, without acknowledging their role as an enabler of human suffering of innocent children who are victims of their parent’s Radical Islamic political ideology, which places their goal to establish an Islamic state in Idlib above the health and safety of their children.

On February 3 the Russian reconciliation’s hotline received a tip-off from 2 residents of Idlib about a planned chemical attack by the terrorists, utilizing their support group, ‘White Helmets’, 15 of whom arrived in Idlib on February 1.  Mahi al-Din al-Am, of the Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, was involved with the staged chemical attack in 2017 at Khan Shaykoun and was assembling a crowd of 200 people in Maaret al-Artik to be used in a new attack.  Surveillance had observed about 400 liters of a chemical solution have been delivered by ‘White Helmets’ activists in two pickup trucks.  The plan has been copied many times in Syria, always when the terrorists are about to be defeated, they pull out the ‘chemical card’ to use, banking on the US to react to a believable video production with a military strike against Syrian government facilities.

 

War Crimes reported

According to the UN Human Rights Council’s special independent panel for Syria, Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, backed and armed by Turkey are accused of war crimes, including extrajudicial killings, pillaging and have conducted war crimes against the local civilian population.

 

Moscow meeting

Presidents Putin and Erdoğan met in Moscow yesterday, in a last-ditch effort to strike a deal over Idlib. Erdogan wanted the SAA to retreat to previous positions and evacuate their newly held territory. He didn’t get his deal, instead, Putin won the day by keeping all SAA gains, and a promise from Turkey to leave the Latakia-Aleppo highway and the Aleppo-Damascus highway unmolested and safe for transit to and from the city of industry, Aleppo. The ceasefire in Idlib is expected to hold if Erdogan can command his Al Qaeda forces.  Some experts expect Erdogan will pull back into Turkey while moving the terrorists over to Libya, where he is also fighting a Muslim Brotherhood battle.  The next crop of olives in Idlib will be set to harvest in September. The question is: will the owners of those trees be picking them once more after so many years absent, or will the squatters still be there?

Feature photo | Turkish backed extremist rebels enter the town of Saraqeb, in Idlib province, Syria, Feb. 27, 2020. Ghaith Alsayed | AP

Steven Sahouni is an independent Syrian political analyst and writer based in Lebanon; he has been covering the Syrian crisis since it’s onset in 2011 and has published several articles in numerous media outlets. He is regularly interviewed by US, Canadian and German media.

The post The New Idlib Ceasefire Forces Turkey-Backed Extremists to Fall Back appeared first on MintPress News.

The Syrian Army in Idlib

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 25/02/2020 - 3:00pm in

Philip Roddis This video may cause distress. Taken by their Isis captors in May 2016, it shows the humiliation of two Syrian soldiers prior to their roadside execution. Now read on … Michael Hudson, described by former Reagan appointee Paul Craig Roberts as the greatest living economist, is clear on the problem US imperialism has …

How a Subtle Turkey-Iran Entente is Helping Iran Secure a Firm Presence in Syria

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 25/02/2020 - 4:38am in

In stark contrast to their positions during the early years of the deadly war in Syria, Turkey and Iran are currently finding areas of strategic cooperation in the war-torn country. The driving factor behind this newfound convergence is a consensus and vision for Syria shared by the trio of Russia, Israel and the wealthy Gulf Arab countries that was described in detail in the first two installments of this series and runs counter to Iran’s interests. But just how plausible, and indeed feasible is it for Iran to keep the Resistance culture thriving in Syria, and is cooperation between Iran and Turkey in Syria’s post-war landscape possible?

 

Turkey and Iran’s converging interests

An April 21, 2019 report by al Masdar News’ editor-in-chief Leith Abou Fadel mapped out a “new proxy war” developing in northern Syria. On one side was Iran and Turkey, on the other, Russia and Saudi Arabia.

Citing an anonymous government source in Damascus, Fadel revealed a Turkey-Iran pact to conduct operations in northern Syria where the secessionist SDF Kurds were entrenched. Saudi Arabia and Russia, on the other hand, sought a ‘peaceful settlement’ between the Syrian government and the SDF.

Also revealed was Turkey’s assistance to Iran in sending oil supplies to Damascus. In the context of the evident pains taken by Iran’s rivals to cut it off economically and militarily from Syria, this constitutes a sign of significantly enhanced Turkey-Iran ties. Turkey, according to the report, agreed to allow Iran to transport oil westward from its borders through Turkey and onward to Syria via Turkey’s Mediterranean ports.

Turkey has excellent relations with Russia, which it has steadily enhanced across the military and economic domains alongside its deteriorating ties with the United States and NATO in the form of its purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system and energy projects such as the TurkStream gas pipeline.

Russia, Turkey and Iran also constitute the Astana format launched in January 2017 for organizing ceasefires and detente in Syria. However, given the rivalry that is developing between Iran and Russia, the format is often being replaced by bargaining between Turkey and Russia over issues such as the reintegration of Turkish-influenced terrorist-held Idlib back into the Syrian fold, leaving Iran appearing marginalized.

Iran Turkey Feature photo

Putin looks on as Rouhani, left, and Erdogan shake hands at a meeting to discuss Syria in Sochi, Russia, Feb. 14, 2019. Sergei Chirikov | AP

For example, Turkey’s successful ‘Operation Peace Spring’ against the SDF – which is essentially a rebranded iteration of the same Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that fought Turkey in the 1980s and 1990s – was concluded in October of 2019 with a Putin-Erdogan Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Under the MoU, Russia agreed to disarm the SDF and grant Turkey a safe zone inside northeastern Syria around which Syrian-Russian and Russian-Turkish patrols would ensure the removal of any SDF presence.

While Iran, like Damascus, initially showed disapproval of Turkey’s invasion of northeastern Syria, like Damascus it immediately accepted the Putin-Erdogan MoU which even U.S. President Trump acknowledged as an inevitable conclusion.

However, Turkey and Iran shared closer views on the situation in northern Syrian than Russia, who would have preferred inevitably never-ending talks between Damascus and SDF over Turkey’s military solution. The Iranian ‘disapproval’ of the operation was therefore likely only for public consumption and it proceeded to cooperate with Turkey, a country with considerable significance as a means to transport Iranian oil to Syria.

 

Turkey: a deterrent against Russia’s ‘contain Iran’ strategy?

As important from the Iranian perspective as Iran and Turkey’s shared views regarding oil aid to Damascus and the fate of the SDF-PKK, however, was the fact that Russia despite clearly differing with Turkey on how to deal with the Kurds soon eagerly accommodated essentially all Turkey’s demands in northern Syria.

This is because Russia’s evident respect for Turkish strategic depth in Syria may play to Iran’s advantage, as it means that Russia will stay away from the Israeli-blessed anti-Turkish policies being pushed by Gulf Arab countries like Saudi Arabia. Iran can, in lieu of this, bolster its ties with Turkey as a buffer against pressure upon itself from Russia, Israel, and the GCC.

A Russia-brokered January 13, 2020 meeting in Moscow between Syrian and Turkish intelligence chiefs and the views on northern Syria exchanged therein provides a concrete example of Russian non-participation in GCC-Israeli endeavors which may anger Turkey. In this case, it is the GCC’s ‘neo-Arab project’ to exacerbate Syria-Turkey tensions which Russia has clearly shown it is not on board with.

Thus, Turkey’s credentials as a potential buffer against Russian pressure on Iran are noteworthy. Moreover, there is ample scope for Iran to exploit this and reduce the coherence of the Russia-GCC-Israeli alliance by creating areas of overlap of Iranian and Turkish interests which will give Turkey’s partner Russia pause with regard to its attempts to counter Iran.

Whatever Russia might make of Turkey enabling Iran to sustain its footprint in Syria, such as the oil transit to Damascus across Turkey, Russia is unlikely to force the issue on Turkey.

What, then, are the prospects for this Iran-Turkey cooperation?

With closer inspection, the scope for Iran to follow this strategy of interlocking its interests with Turkey to ward off Russia is significant. In particular, northern Syria, venue of the ‘new proxy war’ featuring Iran and Turkey versus Russia and the GCC, described in the al Masdar report by Leith Abou Fade mentioned earlier, becomes apparent as the site for such Iran-Turkey cooperation as a means of Iran hedging its bets and exploiting Russia’s acceptance of Turkey’s role in Syria to its favor.

The aforementioned Putin-Erdogan MoU’s allowance of Turkey to resettle Syrian refugees in Syria seemed a logical step following the conclusion of Operation Peace Spring. However, in reality, it signaled Russia greenlighting a much more strategic Turkish ploy: carving out via demographic engineering a Turkish sphere of influence in northern Syria which would be characterized by a pro-Turkish population and persevere even if Turkey handed over military control of the region back to Damascus.

Syria Turkey

A convoy of Syrian refugees departs from Idlib north towards the Turkish border, Feb. 13, 2020. Photo | AP

Turkey’s intent to demographically engineer northern Syria from a Kurdish-dominated region to an Arab-dominated one using Syrian refugees in Turkey was evident even prior to Turkey’s military Operation Peace Spring against the SDF-PKK. This can be seen in a September 2019 declaration by President Erdogan that a ‘refugee city’ needed to be built in northern Syria as a buffer against a ‘terror corridor’ and so that the refugees could partake in agriculture.

In his declaration, Erdogan referred to the SDF-PKK as the ‘terror corridor’. Analyst Andrew Korybko highlights Erdogan’s to resettle many Syrian refugees – believed widely to be of an anti-Assad orientation and with Muslim Brotherhood-leanings – into the ‘safe zone’ granted to Turkey by the MoU. The MoU did not specify where the refugees would be re-settled and thus granted Turkey great freedom for the planned demographic engineering. The goal, of course, is a pro-Turkish sphere of influence in northern Syria.

But what does this mean for Iran?

In the context of Turkey allowing Iran to use its territory to transport oil aid to Syria (while obviously charging fees for the ‘service’), the pro-Turkish polity in northern Syria could be availed by Iran as a shorter land route for undisturbed oil aid to Damascus – and a means of ensuring Damascus’ financial-economic dependency on the GCC and Russia does not rise too much.

Vitally, Russia would be unable to challenge the Turkish-approved Iranian movement in this Turkish-dominated corridor the way that it challenges Damascus’ acquiescence to Iran’s strength in Syria. Regardless of much agitation by the GCC, led by the UAE, following Operation Peace Spring against Turkey’s demographic engineering as well as efforts to ‘unite’ Damascus and the SDF against Turkey, Russia clearly recognizes its Turkish partner as a more powerful player in Syria than its GCC partners and will not commit to a stand-off with Turkey over its cooperation with Iran.

While Damascus is irked by the prospect of a large Brotherhood presence in the north, Israel’s own antagonism toward Turkey’s northern Syria operation and subsequent shaping of a de facto pro-Turkish polity is no small issue. This is because Israel would be losing allies-within-Syria in the form of the SDF-PKK, with whom Israel’s Mossad collaborated extensively even in prior decades when Turkey was a prioritized Israeli ally. For Iran, whose Resistance coalition is built around countering Israel, the displacement of the Kurds by a pro-Turkish polity – de facto legitimized by Russia via the Putin-Erdogan MoU – is a positive scenario not only for the loss of potential Israeli intelligence assets on the ground in Syria but also as a point of deteriorating Turkey-Syria ties.

 

Do Turkey’s ties to Israel stand in the way of cooperation with Iran?

A view of where Turkey-Israel ties currently stand versus their state when the two’s anti-Assad positions were remarkably convergent in 2011 shows a divergence – and subsequent creation of space for Iran-Turkey cooperation.

Part of Israel and AIPAC’s motive for pushing sanctions on Iran in the 1990s and early 2000s was to ensure that newly discovered oil and gas reserves in the Caspian Seas could not be shipped through Iran and onto global markets. Western companies afflicted by the 1996 Iran Libya Sanctions Act (ILSA) desired the Iran route as it was the shortest, but they could not match AIPAC’s drive to ensure ILSA was extended in 2001.

Israel instead wanted that oil and gas to piped through Turkey, who would profit from the transit fees, port activity and construction business instead of Iran.

As documented in a series of articles by Andrew Killgore in 2001 and 2002 on ‘The Great Caspian Sea Oil Pipeline Game,’ Israel lobbied heavily in both the extension of ILSA and a route through Turkey for the newly discovered Caspian oil and gas.

A pipeline from Baku, Azerbaijan through Tbilisi in Georgia and on to Turkey’s Ceyhan Port was promoted to take Azerbaijan’s Caspian oil to the Mediterranean. Killgore states that the Bush administration, its decisive Pentagon and State Department posts filled with the neoconservatives and Israel Lobby-connected individuals, pushed vehemently for the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) pipeline despite its infeasibility. This, Killgore argues, was because Israel wanted to assure that Iran was bypassed completely.

The BTC was longer than a pipeline through Iran would be. It also crossed through areas affected by Kurdish insurgency in Turkey, separatists in Georgia and stretched across rougher terrain.

BTC pipeline

A ceremony announcing the 1,100-mile, US$3.9 billion Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan (BTC) Pipeline in Ceyhan, Turkey, July 13, 2006. Burhan Ozbilici | AP

Killgore explains that Azerbaijan’s oil field discoveries at the time were “disappointing,” bringing the feasibility of the BTC down. However, the Bush administration pushed nearby Kazakhstan to sign a memorandum to pipe oil from its Caspian fields across to Azerbaijan in order to prop up the case for the BTC.

This came as Kazakhstan’s national oil company itself conducted studies finding Iran ‘the shortest and possibly cheapest route for oil to Asian markets’. Regardless, the Bush administration’s ‘special ambassadors’ for the Caspian region continued promoting the idea that huge discoveries of oil would soon be made near Azerbaijan’s Caspian waters, thus making the BTC worth the investment for the Kazakhs and multinational corporations alike.

What Killgore calls the “Israel-First cabal,” however, continued to promote BTC. Spurred on by ILSA’s extension in 2005, it became a reality despite Kazakhstan ultimately not joining the effort due to its own gas fields not being production-capable.

Today, however, significant rifts have appeared in Turkey-Israel ties with regard to monopolizing the flow and marketing of regional energy resources, the very area where Israel invested heavily to keep Turkey on board with its anti-Syria policies.

Israel over the last few years has backed, with ardent Turkish rivals Egypt, Cyprus and Greece, the ‘EastMed Gas Pipeline’ which is a project strongly opposed by Turkey. The EastMed connects newly discovered Eastern Mediterranean gas fields controlled by Israel and the Greek part of Cyprus to facilities in Greece which will pump it to Europe for sale. The EastMed deliberately leaves out Turkey – a natural, shorter-distance avenue for transit on to Europe and which bears a gas transmission grid already integrated with Europe – for geopolitical reasons.

Much of the EastMed’s route crosses through maritime territory disputed with Cyprus by Turkey. Turkey, who made a pact with the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya, demarcated the Turkey-Libya maritime border in a way which cut through the EastMed’s path, raising the stakes and demonstrating heated opposition to the project.

Notably, Israel supports Libyan warlord General Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), which has waged war against the UN-recognized Tripoli-based GNA since 2014 and is armed by Israel. Turkey recently deployed troops to Libya to ward off Haftar’s advance on Tripoli.

Iran has availed deteriorating Turkey-Israel ties, developing a slowly progressing, somewhat concealed involvement in Libya where Iranian-made anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs) have been spotted with the GNA. The Libyan Ambassador to Iran is also from the GNA.

Turkey-Iran cooperation in Syria thus fits within a broader context of improving Iran-Turkey understanding of geopolitical issues driven mostly by deteriorating Turkish ties with Israel.

The architects of the war in Syria sought to destroy the Resistance alliance through force and notably failed, but the battle clearly continues on in an evolved shape and form. The contours of the struggle for Syria’s future between the Resistance and its rivals and enemies have taken on dimensions previously unseen in Syria but their progression and manifestation in current alignments between the host of states vying for influence and strategic depth in Syria is quite visible.

Feature photo | Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, left, and Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani arrive for a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, Sept. 16, 2019. Burhan Ozbilici | AP

Agha Hussain is an independent researcher based in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. He specialized in Middle Eastern affairs and history and is an editorial contributor to Eurasia Future, Regional Rapport and other news outlets. Read more of his work on his personal blog.

The post How a Subtle Turkey-Iran Entente is Helping Iran Secure a Firm Presence in Syria appeared first on MintPress News.

Could Ankara’s temper tantrum lead to escalation in Syria?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 19/02/2020 - 6:30am in

Andre Vltchek So far Turkey, militarily the second mightiest NATO country, has been able to get away with virtually anything it has chosen to brew in the Middle East. The reason why, is simple: to confront Turkey’s bullying and expansionism militarily would be like confronting the United States or Israel; thousands of innocent people would …

Policy of Self-Destruction: Turkey supplying military equipment to Syrian “moderates”

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 17/02/2020 - 12:00pm in

Ahmed Al-Khaled Amid a surge in military operations in Idlib governorate, Turkey has been gradually escalating military provocations, creating obstacles to the advance of the Syrian Arab Army. Currently, Ankara decided to not even try to hide the fact that it funds and supplies terrorist organizations and controlled armed groups. Shortly after the launch of …

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