Just as relations with Egypt are referred to as a “cold peace,” the impression is rising that what’s happening with Turkey is a “cold reconciliation.” Almost every clause in the agreement has proven problematic. Israel transferred some $21 million to the Turkish government and Ankara is supposed to establish a special fund to distribute the money as it sees fit to the families of the ten Turks killed aboard the Mavi Marmara and to the rest of those wounded in the incident.
In exchange, Turkey agreed to pass a law in parliament that would disallow filing lawsuits against senior IDF officials and officers who were involved in the planning and carrying out of the raid on the flotilla ship. In recent years, such lawsuits have been filed in Turkish courts by the families of those killed and the charity organization the IHH, which initiated and organized the flotilla, and which, according to American and Israeli intelligence reports, has previously been involved in funding and providing other support to terrorist organizations, such as al-Qaida and Hamas. The lawsuits included requests to arrest former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, former Military Intelligence chief Amos Yadlin and former Navy commander Eliezer Marom.
The law was passed by the Turkish parliament, however, in recent weeks it seems that things have become complicated. The IHH and some of the victims’ families announced that they are not interested in Israel’s “dirty” money, but in attaining justice. They petitioned the court against the law, and their arguments will be heard next month.
However, what really disturbs Israel is the clause in which Turkey agreed to exile from its territory activists from Hamas’s military wing (the Kassam Brigades) and to shut down their offices. To differentiate, the reconciliation agreement allows Hamas government officials (the political branch) to continue to operate from Turkey.
Erdogan, whose ambitions to serve as a sort of 21st century sultan and to rule the moderate Sunni Muslim world have not subsided, not even after the failed coup attempt against him in July, sees himself as the patron of the Muslim Brotherhood, of which Hamas is the Palestinian affiliate. This is also the reason for his strained relations with Egypt and the government of Abdul Fattah al-Sisi.
In the negotiations that led to the reconciliation agreement, Israel’s representatives insisted on the exile of Hamas’s military branch from Turkey. This was a condition that Israel’s intelligence community – the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), IDF and Mossad – were adamant about. Turkey refused the request outright, initially. Ankara claimed that it did not agree with the distinction made by Israel between Hamas’s military and political branches. In Turkey’s opinion, Hamas is one organization, whose struggle against the Israeli occupation is justified and who they certainly do not see as a terrorist organization. The Turks later softened their stance, and agreed to exile Salah al-Arouri, the commander of the Kassam Brigades delegation in Turkey.
Arouri, who is from the Hebron area, was one of the senior Hamas military wing officials in the West Bank. He was arrested by the Shin Bet and served two sentences in Israeli prisons for involvement in terror. He was expelled to Jordan, which refused to accept him, and from there moved on to Syria. With the start of the civil war in Syria and the closing of Hamas headquarters in Damascus, he moved to Turkey. He established a headquarters there that recruited terror operatives in Jordan and the West Bank, as well as providing them with funds for weapons. Arouri also issued the order to his operatives in the West Bank to kidnap Israelis. In one such attempt, three yeshiva students were kidnapped and murdered in Gush Etzion in June 2014. The murder was the catalyst that led to the third Gaza war in the summer of 2014 (Operation Protective Edge).
Arouri continued to weave terror plots against settlers and IDF soldiers in the West Bank and within the Green Line, and, according to the Shin Bet, also against the Palestinian Authority, in order to bring about its downfall. The Shin Bet uncovered Arouri’s network more than a year ago, arrested most of its members and confiscated their weapons and explosive materials. Then-Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen met with PA president Mahmoud Abbas and gave him intel on what the Shin Bet referred to as Hamas’s “coup plot.”
From Turkey, Arouri went to Qatar, which is also a Hamas base, albeit a distant one. Since he left Damascus in the wake of the Syrian civil war, Qatar has hosted Hamas politburo chief Khaled Meshaal.
The shelter that Qatar grants Hamas and its ties to the organization do not keep Israel from having varying levels of ties to the Gulf state. Qatar is the main donor for the rehabilitation of Gaza, an apparently clear Israeli interest, as was stated again last week by Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman. In Israel, it is also hoped that Qatar, through its connections and influence, will help in the formulation of a swap deal, through which the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin will be returned to Israel, as well as three Israeli citizens who went missing in Gaza. However, at this stage, because of the huge gap in the positions of the two sides, such an agreement is not on the horizon.
Israel hoped that Turkey would help mediate the agreement as well, however, it is currently barely involved in the issue, despite requests from Israeli figures, including the prime minister’s representative to negotiations on POWs and missing persons, Lior Lotan, that it use its influence on Hamas.
Turkey has also given only limited humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza, despite fiery rhetoric on the issue form Erdogan, who was wont to accuse Israel of “war crimes” prior to the reconciliation deal. The direct aid that Turkey granted totaled a few thousand tons of medicine, food, toys and more, that was loaded on two ships that were unloaded at Ashdod Port and from there transported by truck to Gaza. The total of Turkey’s humanitarian aid is worth about half of the value of the goods (some 400 trucks) that Israel transports to Gaza each day.
Even before the reconciliation deal was signed, my colleague Alex Fishman of Yediot Aharonotestimated that Turkey had no intention of expelling Hamas military wing operatives from its territory. Indeed, according to defense establishment information, the headquarters established by Arouri in Turkey is operating as usual, and at its helm is a single commander, who continues to receive orders from Arouri in Qatar. Military wing operatives continue to travel in and out of Turkey as they always did and are planning terror attacks against Israel.
Israel has already complained on multiple occasions that this clause of the agreement is not being implemented, but Erdogan’s government, which is still busy with the shockwaves of the coup attempt, persecuting real and imagined enemies, harassing the media and with a long line of steps to oppress and harm Turkey’s democracy, have ignored Israel’s entreaties.
Despite the anger in Israel, especially in the defense establishment and intelligence community, the government does not intend to throw away the deal. Therefore, Israel is actually accepting Turkish violations of the deal. Even Liberman, who opposed the deal since the beginning of negotiations, long before he became defense minister, and was among the few who did not delude himself into thinking that Turkey would fulfill its obligations, knows that not much can be done at this point. Israel’s room to maneuver is extremely limited. It can inform Turkey that it is also breaking the reconciliation agreement or it can simply accept the situation, and wait for a future opportunity when it will perhaps be possible to convince Erdogan’s government to shut down the Hamas headquarters.
Israel has a particular interest in normalizing relations with Turkey and especially hopes to sign with Ankara a deal to sell the Turks natural gas from the Leviathan reservoir. Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz (Likud) recently visited Turkey, meeting with his counterpart, who is also Erdogan’s son-in-law.
Israel also hopes that despite the “cold reconciliation,” it can still be possible to rehabilitate security and intel ties between the countries. The chances for such an occurrence are slim, but amid the volatility in the Middle East, you can never know. Then, perhaps an opportunity will pop up that will enable Turkey to “reform.”
This could happen if Turkey finds itself in a new and more powerful conflict with Iran because of its army’s involvement in Iraq, particularly in the battle for Mosul. There is already great tension between Ankara and Tehran. The Iraqi government is asking the Turkish army to get out of its territory, a move that Erdogan seems loathe to make at this point.
Under the pretext of fighting ISIS, the Turkish army invaded Iraqi territory in order to prevent the establishment of an independent Kurdish state in the northern part of the country and to break up the land corridor that Iran seeks to establish from its own territory, through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon. If such a corridor was established it could be referred to as the Pan-Shi’te Highway.
If indeed Jerusalem and Ankara become closer in the future amid these developments, it can be assumed that, like in the past, the one leading the talks on the issue will be Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, who was also a partner to the talks on reconciliation in his capacity as the head of the National Security Council. It was previously reported that former Mossad chiefs Meir Dagan and Tamir Pardo, like their predecessors since the days of Isser Harel in the 1950s, met with the heads of Turkish intelligence. In such an instance, a meeting between Cohen and his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan would also be likely. Perhaps then Cohen will be able to convince Fidan to close the Hamas headquarters in Turkey and to use his influence to implement a swap deal for the soldiers’ bodies and missing civilians with Hamas.
The PA president been meeting with the leaders of Turkey, Qatar and Hamas — perhaps because his friends are abandoning him
In a turn of events no one could have foreseen mere weeks ago, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — until recently the ally of Egypt and Saudi in the fight against the Muslim Brotherhood and other radical Islamist groups — met on Wednesday with Khaled Mashaal, outgoing head of Hamas’s politburo, and with Ismail Haniyeh, Mashaal’s successor. These meetings took place after Abbas met the previous week with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al Thani.
Erdogan and Sheikh Tamim are considered strong patrons of the Muslim Brotherhood, the great rival of Egypt and its president, Abdel Fattah el-Sissi. Abbas’s meetings with them, as well as his talks with Mashaal and Haniyeh, the two highest-ranking members of Hamas (the Muslim Brotherhood’s Palestinian offshoot), may even lead to a historic reconciliation with Hamas, though that outcome is still a long way off. Whether such a reconciliation would be a good or a bad thing depends on whom you ask.
So what — or, rather, who — has led Abbas straight into the arms of the Muslim Brotherhood, and maybe even into those of Hamas, just days after a high-ranking Hamas official in Gaza called him a traitor?
The answer is simple: Mohammad Dahlan. This former high-ranking Fatah official, who has been challenging Abbas for several years, succeeded this week in areas where even Hamas has failed. He managed to get Cairo on his side in the fight against Abbas and proved how weak and shaky Abbas’s status is in the Arab world.
In addition, Dahlan organized a series of demonstrations in the West Bank against the Palestinian Authority and Abbas — to which hundreds of Fatah activists showed up. So Abbas, who has taken some hard hits in recent weeks (including for attending the funeral of Shimon Peres, in case anyone forgot), caught on to the conspiracy being wrought against him in Cairo, Abu Dhabi (where Dahlan lives), and even Saudi Arabia (which recently cut back its aid to the PA). So Abbas decided to approach the patrons of the Muslim Brotherhood and perhaps bring about a reconciliation with Hamas — mainly with the leadership of the group’s political wing abroad.
Why approach Hamas leaders in Qatar and not in Gaza?
One reason is that the high-ranking members of Hamas in Gaza seem to be collaborating with Dahlan, of all people. This means that the conventional division into various camps (pragmatic Sunnis, the Muslim Brotherhood, Shiites, jihadist Sunnis) created in recent years is once again melting before our eyes. The new Middle East transformed long ago into a juicy and tragic political-diplomatic soap opera, and we cannot predict where the plot of its next episode is headed.
The rivalry between Dahlan and Abbas surfaced in late 2010, when reports of dubious accuracy spread that Dahlan was preparing a putsch against the PA president. The reports, together with critical statements made by Dahlan against Abbas’s sons, led the PA president to make a rapid move that ended with Dahlan’s expulsion from the Palestinian territories in January 2011.
Dahlan has been living in the United Arab Emirates since then and trying to set up bastions of support in the Palestinian territories, particularly among the inhabitants of the refugee camps in the West Bank and Gaza. These attempts have been unsuccessful for years. But though people identified as Dahlan loyalists failed to gain status or support, they were still a chronic headache for Abbas and his security agencies. Abbas’s close associates claimed that Dahlan was running armed men in places such as Qalandiya, north of Jerusalem, and Balata, near Nablus, in an attempt to perpetrate terror attacks against Israel so as to damage relations between Ramallah and Jerusalem.
But something changed over the past few months: a combination of Abbas’s diminishing status and, just as important, the mobilization of the Arab quartet — Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan — in an effort to assist Dahlan. Cairo was instrumental in pressuring Abbas to reconcile with Dahlan and restore him to Fatah’s ranks. But Abbas and Fatah’s leadership insisted on not taking Dahlan back into the movement, agreeing only to “reconsider the return of his associates to Fatah.”
This answer was not acceptable to Sissi, and neither was Abbas’s refusal to hold a summit with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Cairo. It was then that Egypt, without a word to the media, began to act against Abbas using classic Egyptian methods. In a move interpreted as an explicit challenge to Abbas, the Egyptians allowed Dahlan — or Abu Fadi, as he is also known — to hold a gathering of dozens of supporters in Cairo.
Then they reached understandings with Hamas that Mohammad Dahlan’s wife, Jalila (Umm Fadi), would enter Gaza through the Rafah crossing, after the PA stopped her from entering via the Erez crossing. Jalila has been working in the Gaza Strip for many years, mainly in various charitable endeavors, with the permission of Hamas (which uses her as a stick to poke at Abbas). Just this week, she held a mass wedding ceremony, fully funded by the UAE, for dozens of people who were wounded in the 2014 war in Gaza, Operation Pillar of Defense. On top of all that, the Egyptians agreed to open the Rafah crossing for ten days every month, at least according to the latest update from Egypt. These incidents, of course, resulted in upgrading Dahlan’s standing in Gaza, where he is perceived as the desired candidate for the PA’s next president.
But Gaza is not Dahlan’s last stop. Jihad Tamliya, one of his known supporters, held a conference entitled Unity Among Fatah Ranks last week in the Amari refugee camp in the heart of Ramallah. Approximately 200 Fatah members called there for the adoption of the reconciliation initiative by Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE — or, in other words, expressed their support for Dahlan and their opposition to Abbas.
Tamliya has a history of conflict and friction with Abbas — or, more precisely, with Abbas’s son Tarek, who took over the management of Amari’s well-known soccer club in 2014. Tamliya defeated the younger Abbas in the elections for soccer club chairmanship that took place about a year later, and was appointed in his place. His close connections with Dahlan got him marked as an “enemy of the system.”
And this is where Abbas’s error stands out in sharp relief. Instead of trying to bring his rivals close to him, to win back the members of Fatah who had grown close to Dahlan — most of whom are major activists in the refugee camps — he came out against them with all his might through his associates, causing even greater ferment against the PA in the refugee camps, the places with the highest explosive potential.
The inhabitants of the Qalandiya, Askar and Jenin refugee camps have for decades seen themselves as a group that the PA has neglected and discriminated against. Dahlan, who realized the potential of these places right away, recruited supporters and agents there over the past five years, while Abbas continued using force against the activists.
That is also what happened this week. Abbas, feeling that the whole world was against him, swiftly punished Tamliya by throwing him out of Fatah. This led to a demonstration against the PA by hundreds of Amari’s inhabitants. Palestinian police officers arrived at the demonstration and severe clashes broke out.
“Young Palestinian men threw stones at the police officers as if they were Israeli troops,” one resident told this reporter. The commotion persisted, and news of the clashes spread like wildfire over social media networks, bringing hundreds of people into the alleyways of Balata and Jenin refugee camps to demonstrate against the PA. Live ammunition was used, and at least three people were wounded. The incidents subsided, but this is most likely not the last word in the battle between Dahlan and Abbas.
Just before the end
This series of events demonstrates even more powerfully that the West Bank has entered a kind of twilight zone, a dangerous and problematic interim stage, in which the status of the Palestinian Authority and its leader are weaker than they have ever been.
On the one hand, government agencies are still operating and demonstrating their ability to govern. But on the other, Abbas is more weak and vulnerable than ever, and everybody is busy with the question of “the day after.” Many members of Fatah fear that the day is fast approaching when Fatah will split over the uncompromising battle between Dahlan and Abbas, and Hamas will become more powerful still.
It should be emphasized that Dahlan is not the only one in Fatah to be marking out territory in anticipation of the fight over the succession.
The highest levels of Fatah, as a whole, are busy with Fatah’s general assembly, which is set to take place in late November and can point the way to who Abbas’s successor might be. Fatah’s Central Council will be elected during the assembly — and according to Fatah’s bylaws, it is only from the Central Council that Abbas’s successor, Fatah’s next chairman, may be chosen. It is also likely that the assembly will elect Fatah’s deputy chairman, who could, in time, succeed to the chairmanship.
Quite a few names have been mentioned time and again in the context of the deputy position: Marwan Barghouti, who is serving his sentence in an Israeli prison for five murder convictions; Saeb Erekat, who is also the secretary-general of the PLO Executive Committee; and Nasser al-Kidwa, nephew of Yasser Arafat, whose unique feature is that he has no powerful enemies in Fatah and is considered acceptable to everyone.
There is one other big name — that of a man who has managed to strengthen his status in Fatah, mainly among the rank and file: our old acquaintance Jibril Rajoub. He was re-elected recently as chairman of the Palestinian Football Association, and has managed, through his work in athletics, to recruit quite a few young supporters. He has excellent connections among Palestinian security agencies, and almost all of the governors are his former soldiers.
Another prominent fact about Rajoub is that he is considered Mohammed Dahlan’s main rival. The open hostility between them began in 2002, when Dahlan turned his back on Rajoub after the takeover of the Preventive Security Service headquarters in Beitunia and tried to incriminate him — falsely, it should be said — for the extradition to Israel of Hamas members who were in his custody.
As we mentioned before, Palestinian politics is quite the soap opera.
Times Of Israel
For Turkey, a friendship with Russia is allowing Ankara to make gains in Syria that its alliance with the United States was unable to offer, writes Turkey expert David Barchard.
THIS COMING WEEK, it will be exactly 13 months since Russia moved militarily into Syria.
At the time, Russia’s brilliant, if ruthless, move on the strategic chessboard infuriated Turkey. It seemed to block the way for the military incursion campaign that Ankara still dreamt of to dislodge President Bashar al-Assad and replace him with a Sunni-led united Syria. Russia, too, seems to have believed at the start of this year that it would face the united opposition of Turkey and Saudi Arabia in Syria.
But as things have turned out, Russia’s entry into Syria eventually unblocked the three-year stalemate for Turkey – after it had done a volte-face of its own and President Erdogan reached an understanding with President Vladimir Putin in June.
That deal was probably inspired by a Turkish need to restore normal economic relations with Russia, but it swiftly turned out to be a winning compromise for it in Syria as well.
Striking the Kurds
At the present, though Russia is securely entrenched in the western areas of the country ruled by Assad and unlikely ever to be dislodged, Turkey, with Putin’s approval, now has tanks and soldiers in the north of the country. The long-frustrated Turkish dream of a “safe zone” for refugees running 55 miles (90km) westward from Jarabulus now seems to be realizable.
More importantly, Turkey is also able to simultaneously tackle the two threats it sees on its southern borders: the autonomous Syrian Kurdish enclaves and the Islamic State (I.S.) militant group.
Borrowing the tactics of the U.S.-led coalition against I.S., its planes bomb the Syrian Kurds while its local allies in the Free Syrian Army fight them on the ground, pressing on Tel Rifaat and Marea, and the outlying Kurdish enclave of Afrin, and also Manbij, the town recently captured from I.S. by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces.
Each major move by Turkey seems to be preceded by a direct telephone conversation between the two presidents, indicating that, though each has probably told the other the general outlines of the new order that they intend to create in Syria, they still need to be sure of the other’s specific acquiescence.
A year ago, Putin probably would not have relished the idea of a Turkish-backed Sunni zone in much of Syria – and his ally Bashar al-Assad must detest it.
But, if I.S.’s hold on northeastern Syria does crumble under the Turkey-backed onslaught on it, some sort of stable authority is likely to emerge in place of the present fragmentation as Turkey and its allies consolidate their hold in the north and Turkey acts as its guarantor.
More importantly, Putin knows that cooperation with Turkey is beginning to glue it into a long-term partnership with Russian interests. It is not simply that Turkey’s relations with the U.S. and NATO are tense and mutually suspicious, and steadily deteriorating.
The arrival of Russia in Syria could be its biggest strategic breakthrough since the distant times when it arrived on the Black Sea in 1774. It transforms the strategic balance in the Eastern Mediterranean region, effectively encircling Turkey and pruning its strategic importance to its Western allies.
This might have started alarm bells ringing in Ankara under many earlier governments but today, the eyes of government strategists and commentators in the Turkish capital are almost exclusively focused on eliminating opponents of its Sunni allies in both Syria and Iraq and then building those groups up in the medium term into stable frontline political entities working closely with Turkey.
Having been frustrated from gaining this prize for so long and paid such a huge cost, it is understandable that Ankara is determined not to miss it now.
So what we are seeing in Syria seems like a drift toward the emergence of two zones of influence: a Russian-backed littoral state under Assad, claiming to be the sole government of the country, and a “Free Syria” backed by Turkey.
This might sound a bit like Cold War Germany, but perhaps a better parallel, and a more Middle Eastern one, is the division of Iran into Russian and British zones of influence before World War I.
This depends, of course, on the four-months-old Russian-Turkish understanding continuing. Not all Russian observers are confident that it will. The red line it seems Turkish forces must not cross is al-Bab, the strategic town currently occupied by I.S. 35 miles (55km) to the north of Aleppo. Turkey struck this week at Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) forces close to al-Bab, frustrating possible Kurdish moves to gain the upper hand there.
Some of Erdogan’s supporters, particularly the Turkish affiliates of the Muslim Brotherhood and other conservatives, have been urging him ever since August to move on al-Bab, and speeches he has given suggest he is warm toward the idea. “They tell us not to go to al-Bab, but we are obliged to go down there,” he said in a speech at Bursa on 22 October.
Deal on Aleppo
If – and it is a big “if” because such a move looks dangerous in military terms – Turkish allies and perhaps even its troops do move toward Aleppo, Turkey’s relations with Russia will come under serious strain. Putin needs to find some sort of deal over the city, giving Turkey’s public the impression of at least a token gain.
Turkey has, however, shown willingness to respect Russian sensitivities in Aleppo by agreeing to remove al-Nusra Front militants from the town in a telephone conversation between Erdogan and Putin. The partnership with Russia looks like a way for Turkey to achieve a slightly scaled-down version of its long-term policy aims in Syria, something the U.S. could not provide.
On 23 October, Erdogan told the Russian TV channel Rossiya-1: “I need the support of my respected and valuable friend Putin in the joint struggle against terrorism in this region. We are ready to take every step necessary to cooperate with Russia in this area.” Russian-Turkish friendship is new but it may be more than a short-lived marriage of convenience.
This article was originally published by Middle East Eye and is reprinted here with permission
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Syria Deeply.
DEBKAfile Exclusive Report September 9, 2016, 8:05 AM (IDT)
The fledgling “initiatives” reverberating this week in Washington, Moscow, Ankara, Jerusalem and the G20 summit were nothing but distractions from the quiet deals struck by two lead players, Russia and Turkey to seize control of the region’s affairs. Recep Tayyip Erdogan knew nothing would come of his offer on the G20 sidelines to US President Barack Obama to team up for a joint operation to evict ISIS from Raqqa. And, although Moscow was keen on hosting the first handshake in almost a decade between Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), neither were known to be ready for the last step toward a meeting.
But the game-changing events to watch out for took place in Hangzhou without fanfare – namely, the Obama-Putin talks and the far more fruitful encounter between Putin and Erdogan.
According to DEBKAfile’s intelligence and Mid East sources, Putin virtually shut the door on further cooperation with the United States in Syria. He highhandedly informed Obama that he now holds all the high cards for controlling the Syrian conflict, whereas Washington was just about out of the game.
Putin picked up the last cards, our sources disclose, in a secret deal with Erdogan for Russian-Turkish collaboration in charting the next steps in the Middle East.
The G20 therefore, instead of promoting new US-Russian understanding, gave the impetus to a new Russian-Turkish partnership.
Erdogan raked in instant winnings: Before he left China, he had pocketed Putin’s nod to grab a nice, 4,000-sq.km slice of northern Syria, as a “security zone” under the control of the Turkish army and air force, with Russian non-interference guaranteed.
This Turkish zone would include the Syrian towns of Jarablus, Manjib, Azaz and Al-Bab.
Ankara would reciprocate by withdrawing its support from the pro-US and pro-Saudi rebel groups fighting the Assad army and its allies in the area north of Aleppo.
Turkey’s concession gave Putin a selling-point to buy the Syrian ruler assent to Erdogan’s project. Ankara’s selling-point to the West was that the planned security zone would provide a safe haven for Syrian refugees and draw off some of the outflow perturbing Europe.
It now turns out that, just as the Americans sold the Syrian Kurds down the river to Turkey (when Vice President Joe Biden last month ordered them to withdraw from their lands to the eastern bank of the Euphrates River or lose US support), so too are the Turks now dropping the Syrian rebels they supported in the mud by re-branding them as “terrorists.”
The head of this NATO nation has moreover gone behind America’s back for a deal with the Russian ruler on how to proceed with the next steps of the Syrian conflict.
Therefore, when US Secretary of State John Kerry met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva Thursday and Friday, Sept. 8-9, for their sixth and seventh abortive sit-downs on the Syrian issue, there was not much left for them to discuss, aside from continuing to coordinate their air traffic over Syria and the eastern Mediterranean.
Washington and Moscow are alike fearful of an accidental collision in the sky in the current inflammable state of relations between the two powers.
As a gesture of warning, a Russian SU-25 fighter jet Tuesday, Sept 6, intercepted a US Navy P8 plane flying on an international route over the Black Sea. When the Russian jet came as close as 12 feet, the US pilots sent out emergency signals – in vain, because the Russian plane’s transponder was switched off. The American plane ended up changing course.
Amid these anomalies, Moscow pressed ahead with preparations to set up a meeting between the Israeli and Palestinian leaders, as the Russian Foreign Ministry announced Thursday.
Putin is keen to succeed where the Obama administration failed. John Kerry abandoned his last effort at peacemaking as a flop two years ago. But it is hard to see Netanyahu or Abu Mazen rushing to play along with the Russian leader’s plan to demean the US president in the last months of his tenure – especially when no one can tell who will win the November 8 presidential election – Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump – or what policies either will pursue.
All the region’s actors will no doubt be watching closely to see how Turkey’s “Russian track” plays out and how long the inveterate opportunists can hang together.
An all-out Turkish-Kurdish war has boiled over in northern Syria since the Turkish army crossed the border last Wednesday, Aug. 24 for the avowed aim of fighting the Islamic State and pushing the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia back. Instead of falling back, the Kurds went on the offensive and are taking a hammering. This raging confrontation has stalled the US-led coalition offensive against ISIS and put on indefinite hold any US plans for campaigns to drive the jihadists out of their Syrian and Iraqi capitals of Raqqa and Mosul.
The Kurdish militia ground troops, who were backed by the US and assigned the star role in these campaigns, are now fully engaged in fighting Turkey. And, in another radical turnaround, Iraqi Kurdish leaders (of the Kurdish Regional Republic) have responded by welcoming Iran to their capital, in retaliation for the US decision to join forces with Turkey at the expense of Kurdish aspirations.
The KRG’s Peshmerga are moreover pitching in to fight with their Syrian brothers. Together, they plan to expel American presence and influence from both northern Syria and northern Iraq in response to what they perceive as a US sellout of the Kurds.
DEBKAfile’s military analysts trace the evolving steps of this escalating complication of the Syrian war and its wider impact:
- Since cleansing Jarablus of ISIS, Turkey has thrown large, additional armored and air force into the battle against the 35.000-strong YPG Kurdish fighters. This is no longer just a sizeable military raid, as Ankara has claimed, but a full-fledged war operation. Turkish forces are continuing to advancing in three directions and by Sunday, Aug. 28 had struck 15-17km deep inside northern Syria across a 100km wide strip.
Their targets are clearly defined: the Kurdish enclave of Afrin in northwest Syria and the Kurdish enclave of Qamishli and Hassaka in the east, in order to block the merger of Kurdish enclaves into a contiguous Syrian Kurdish state.
Another goal was Al-Bab north of and within range of Aleppo for a role in a major theater of the Syrian conflict. To reach Al-Bab, the Turkish force would have to fight its way through Kurdish-controlled territory.
- The Turks are also using a proxy to fight the Syrian Kurds. Thousands of Syrian Democratic Army (SDF) rebels, whom they trained and supplied to fight Syria’s Bashar Assad army and the Islamic State, have been diverted to targeting the Kurds under the command of Turkish officers, to which Turkish elite forces are attached.
- A Turkish Engineering Corps combat unit is equipped for crossing the Euphrates River and heading east to push the Kurds further back. Contrary to reports, the Turkish have not yet crossed the river itself or pushed the Kurds back – only forded a small stream just east of Jarablus. The main Kurdish force is deployed to the south not the east of the former ISIS stronghold.
- Neither have Turkish-backed Syrian forces captured Manbij, the town 35km south of Jarablus which the Kurds with US support captured from ISIS earlier this month. Contrary to claims by Ankara’s spokesmen, those forces are still only 10-15km on the road to Mabij.
- Sunday, heavy fighting raged around a cluster of Kurdish villages, Beir Khoussa and Amarneh, where the Turks were forced repeatedly to retreat under Kurdish counter attacks. Some of the villages were razed to the ground by the Turkish air force and tanks. At least 35 villagers were reported killed.
- In four days of fierce battles, the Kurds suffered 150 dead and the Turkish side, 60.
- DEBKAfile military sources also report preparations Sunday to evacuate US Special Operations Forces and helicopter units from the Rmeilan air base near the Syrian-Kurdish town of Hassaka. If the fighting around the base intensifies, they will be relocated in northern Iraq.
- Fighters of the Iraqi-Kurdish Peshmerga were seen removing their uniforms and donning Syrian YPG gear before crossing the border Sunday and heading west to join their Syrian brothers in the battle against Turkey.
- The KRG President Masoud Barazani expects to travel to Tehran in the next few days with an SOS for Iranian help against the US and the Turks. On the table for a deal is permission from Irbil for the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to win their first military bases in the Iraqi Kurdish republic, as well as transit for Iranian military forces to reach Syria through Kurdish territory..
The US decision to remove its nuclear arsenal from Turkey is apparent confirmation that, almost overnight, Erdoğan has abandoned his alliance with the West and shifted to the East, vis-a-vis Moscow. His anticipated welcome to Tehran’s superpower teammates, Russia and China, has sobering implications for Israel.
In a move characterized as “an earthshaking Middle East development,” the Israeli intelligence news service, DEBKAfile, reports that the United States of America is hastily removing its entire nuclear arsenal out of Turkey. It is yet another indication that the USA is “folding its tents in the Middle East.”
And taking its place? On land, in the skies and from the sea: Russia.
Moscow is rapidly expanding its air force footprint in the region with a new base in Iran following its facility in Syria. Advanced bombers and fighters are stepping up operations in both countries, while Russian warships carrying Kalibr cruise missiles gather in the Mediterranean and Caspian Seas, DEBKA reports.
For years, the US has maintained an arsenal of 50 to 70 B61 nuclear bombs at the southern Turkish airbase of Incirlik. They have been kept in underground bunkers, close to airstrips where, of late, US bombers have been launching missions against ISIS in Syria only 70 miles (112 kilometers) away.
Those missions came to a virtual halt after an attempted coup to oust Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in mid-July. In the aftermath of that unsuccessful coup, Erdoğan implictly accused Washington for it.
My people know who is behind this scheme… they know who the superior intelligence behind it is… you are giving yourselves away, he said.
Erdoğan’s reference to “the superior intelligence” was an all-but transparent reference to US President Obama and the military-intelligence forces under his control as their Commander in Chief.
Based on the conviction that Washington was behind the coup, Erdogan immediately began rapprochement talks with Russia. On 17 July, only two days after suppressing the attempted overthrow, he ended his nation’s feud with Russia. After meeting with Russian President Putin on 8 August, the two countries agreed to share intelligence, military and energy resources. In the aftermath of that agreement, there have been calls in Turkey to replace US warplanes at Incirlik with Russian fighters.
It is for these reasons, and probably more, that analysts today believe Erdoğan is also on the verge of joining Moscow’s alliance with Tehran.
If so, in a matter of weeks, Erdoğan has abandoned his country’s alliance with the West, vis-a-vis NATO, and pledged his allegiance to the East, vis-a-vis Moscow.
The USA’s rapid removal of its nuclear arsenal from Turkey seems to verify this conclusion.
The implications of this ‘overnight’ realignment of powers has profound implications for the Jewish State. In the name of defeating ISIS, Turkey, Russia and China have all allied themselves with the Islamic Republic of Iran, a nation that is explicitly committed to Israel’s annhilation. Right now the focus of this massive international league is ISIS. But next on the list, according to Tehran, is Israel.
Brian Schrauger is the Editor-In-Chief of The Jerusalem Journal. He can be reached at Editor@JerusalemJournal.net
The US has started to move nuclear weapons, stationed in Turkey, to Romania, in connection with deteriorating relations between Washington and Ankara.
Against the background of deteriorating relations between Washington and Ankara, the US has started to transfer nuclear weapons, stored in Turkey, to Romania, the EurActiv information website reported on Thursday, citing independent sources.
According to one of the sources, the operation is very complicated technically and politically.
As a recent Simons Center’s report revealed, about 50 units of US tactical nuclear weapons have been placed at the Incirlik air base in Turkey, about 100 km from the Syrian border, since the Cold War.
After the July’s coup attempt in the country, the Turkish government prohibited the flights of US aircraft to the base and out of it and then arrested a base commander for his involvement in the coup attempt. The report asked, whether the US would be able to maintain control of these weapons in the case of a prolonged civil conflict in Turkey, and did not give the answer on this question.
Another source said that the US-Turkey relations have deteriorated so much after the coup attempt that Washington no longer trusts Ankara to keep nuclear weapons. According to the source, the weapons are transferring to the Deveselu Romanian military base.
EurActiv noted that the Deveselu base is a placement of a new US missile shield, which causes great discontent of Russia.
The information appeared along with messages about the possible use of the Incirlik air base by the Russian Aerospace Forces for carrying out air strikes in Syria.
Meanwhile, just a day before, the civilian head of the US Air Force said that Washington does not see a need to move the nuclear weapons placed at the Turkey’s air base.
“We do have nuclear weapons and those nuclear weapons are safe and secure, and we are very confident in that,” Deborah Lee James, US Air Force Secretary, said on Wednesday, answering questions at the Foreign Press Club in New York City.
Last Wednesday, Lee James also tried to reassure reporters that tensions between Washington and Ankara will not affect the nuclear bombs.
“They obviously are our ally. We stand with them, they’re an effective air force, and Incirlik is an important location for our joint fight,” she said at the State of the Air Force briefing last week.
However, as we can see, her statements were likely not so plausible.
Russian officials have discussed the possibility of using Turkey’s Incirlik air base as a hub for carrying out air strikes in Syria.
According to Russian deputy Igor Morozov, the use of the airbase, which is currently used by NATO and plays the role of a home for about 50 US nuclear warheads, could be offered to Russia by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
However, this step, aimed at the use of the base in the east of Turkey, would be highly controversial as Russia and NATO have been at odds over a number of issues, including Syria and Ukraine.
“Turkey can provide the Incirlik base to the Russian Aerospace Forces for its use in counterterrorism operations [in Syria]. This can become a logical continuation of Turkish President Erdogan’s step toward Russia,” Morozov told the RIA Novosti news agency.
A member of the Council of the Federation Committee on Defense and Security, Senator Viktor Ozerov, also noted that the use of the airbase could be a signal of strengthening relations between the two countries.
“It is not guaranteed that Russia needs Incirlik, but such a decision can be regarded as Turkey’s real readiness to cooperate with Russia in the fight against terrorism in Syria, and not just pay lip service,” Sputnik quoted his words.
Western analysts have already started to express concern about the security of the US warheads, located in Turkey, in connection with the failed coup of 15 July. And Turkey’s realignment toward Russia could increase NATO’s fears about its position in Turkey.
On august 17, editor of the Yeni Safak newspaper, Ibrahim Karagul, said that the state should “take control” of the nuclear weapons in Incirlik.
“The nukes in Incirlik must be handed over to Turkey,” he wrote. “Or else, Turkey should take control of them.”
Amind the ongoing military and political developments over, some people believe it is possible that we will see the next expansion of Russia’s military presence in the Middle East in the near future.
The big story is not that Russia bombed ISIS. The big story is its new base in Iran. But even this pales next to the pending military alliance between Russia, Iran and Turkey.
Sometime today Russia is making delivery of advanced S-300 and S-400 air defense missiles. They are headed for its new and all-at-once Hamedan base in Iran. Hamedan in Iran is also known as the biblical city of Shushan.
Yesterday Russia surprised the world with news of its previously unknown, and new, airbase in Iran.
The Russian Ministry of Defense issued a statement that was picked up and widely carried in Western media.
On August 16, 2016, Tu-22M3 long-range bombers and Su-34 tactical bombers took off from the “Hamedan” airbase (the Islamic Republic of Iran) and carried out a concentrated airstrike on objects of the ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra terrorist groupings in the provinces of Aleppo, Deir ez-Zor and Idlib.
Flaunting its success, the Ministry of Defense also posted this video of the mission.
Western media picked up the story about the bombing runs, but virtually nothing was said about Russia’s new Hamedan base.
According to DEBKAfile, an Israeli intelligence news service, Western intelligence failed to detect its construction. Apparently, no one knew about the base until this week. But it is the base, not the bombing sorties, that is the bigger story.
This is the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution that Iran has allowed a foreign military to set up a base on its soil, DEBKA notes. Setting it up was no small task. Landing strips were extended to facilitate heavy bombers and escort fighters. Maintenance shops for various aircraft and living quarters for Russian personnel were also erected.
Begun in the second week of July, the entire base was finished and became operation in a month. The only reasonable conclusion is that, for whatever reasons, Russia intended to surprise the world with its appearance.
What is clear is the degree of trust and cooperation Moscow has achieved with Tehran. DEBKA reports that the two capitals have reached a military and aviation accord that includes these clauses:
1. Free rein for Russian jets in all parts of Iranian air space
2. License for Russia to operate long-range UAV’s from Noji air base.
3. Permission to launch Russian cruise missiles through Iranian air space.
Apparently, however, Moscow’s mission in the Middle East includes another key component: close a pending deal with Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdoğan. DEBKA’s conclusion?
Given the tightening strategic cooperation between Russia and Tehran, one last step remains for Vladimir Putin to take as the final touch to the Russian-Turkish-Iranian alliance – and that is a visit by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to Tehran for concluding a military pact between Turkey and Iran.
Brian Schrauger is the Editor-In-Chief of the Jerusalem Journal. He can be reached at Editor@JerusalemJournal.net
Erdogan is one giant step closer to doing what he has always wanted to do
Much has been made of the Islamic State’s claim to the caliphate. But the Islamic State is fast losing ground in Syria and Iraq, and without a territorial claim, its claim to the caliphate is a shaky one. According to some sources, ISIS has already been preparing its followers for the fall of the caliphate.
Meanwhile, an Islamist power with a much better claim to the caliphate has been gathering strength. Whether the failed coup in Turkey was the real thing or whether it was staged, as some have claimed, President Erdogan’s hold over the Turkish nation has been immeasurably strengthened. As a result, he is now one giant step closer to doing what, some say, he has always wanted to do—namely, to re-establish the caliphate.
The last time the Muslim world had a caliphate, it was centered in Constantinople. The Turkish sultan (who was also the caliph) was the head of the Ottoman Empire—an empire that controlled far more territory than ISIS does or is ever likely to. Then in 1923, following the disarray left by the First World War, a secular government under the leadership of Kemal Ataturk came to power in Turkey and abolished the caliphate soon after.
To many in the Muslim world, this was a world-changing catastrophe. It flew in the face of Muhammad’s intention that mosque and state should be united, and it undermined the case for Islamic law. Moreover, the overthrow of the caliphate affected not just Turkey, but all of the Muslim world. In the late 1920s in Egypt, Hasan al-Banna founded the Muslim Brotherhood with the intention of reversing what Ataturk had done. The Brotherhood came close to doing this–at least in Egypt—in 2012 with the election of Mohamed Morsi as president. But Morsi showed his hand too early and was soon deposed by the military under General El-Sisi.
In Turkey, also, it was the military that acted as the guardian of the secular state. And so it remained until the election of President Recep Erdogan in 2002. Even then, Erdogan moved slowly in his efforts to re-Islamize Turkey. He gradually removed top military officers and replaced them with his own men; and he did the same with the police, the judiciary, and other key institutions.
By 2012, some twenty percent of the country’s generals were estimated to be behind bars. Then, with this month’s failed coup, Erdogan moved quickly to arrest some 3,000 members of the military and 3,000 members of the judiciary. In addition, his regime sacked 9,000 workers attached to the Interior Ministry. Within a week of the attempted coup, some 50,000 soldiers, police, judges, civil servants, and teachers had been suspended or arrested.
Erdogan’s power is now nearly absolute—not unlike the absolute power of a sultan. According to some, this has been his goal all along. One indication is that Erdogan has built himself a thousand-room presidential palacethat is attended by guards dressed in Ottoman-era uniforms.
If Erdogan does try to establish a caliphate, where does that leave ISIS? Would they go quietly into the dark night of oblivion? Or would they find a place in the new caliphate?
As you may have noticed, alliances in the Middle East are constantly shifting. It’s not inconceivable that ISIS would someday pledge allegiance to a neo-Ottoman caliphate—although such an event might have to be preceded by the demise of their current caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. The truth is, Erdogan has been something of a friend and benefactor of ISIS. As Caroline Glick observed in the Jerusalem Post:
Erdogan has turned a blind eye to al-Qaida. And he has permitted ISIS to use Turkey as its logistical base, economic headquarters, and recruitment center. Earlier this year, the State Department claimed that all of the 25,000 foreign recruits to ISIS have entered Syria through Turkey.
Turkey is also the gateway between Syria and Europe. It is through Turkey that the bulk of Muslim migrants flow into Europe. This gives Erdogan enormous leverage over the future of Europe—a continent which is already reeling from a flood of migrants and refugees. How is the leverage applied? In March, the European Union reached a deal with Turkey that would in essence turn Turkey into a buffer zone against further immigration. Here’s how Foreign Affairs summarized the bargain:
Turkey has agreed to act as a giant refugee holding center, keeping the millions of migrants fleeing conflict in the Middle East from reaching Europe and accepting those sent back from Greece. In exchange, the EU will pay Turkey three billion euros on top of the three billion pledged last November to help care for the refugees. It will also speed up the approval of visa-free travel to Europe for Turkish citizens and revive stalled negotiations over Turkey’s accession to the EU.
So Turkey will keep the Syrian migrants out of Europe as long as Turkish citizens are allowed almost unlimited access to Europe through visa-free travel. The net result is that the Islamization of Europe will continue. And, of course, there’s nothing to stop Turkey from opening up the refugee floodgate whenever it sees fit. Turkey’s control of Mid-East migration gives it the upper hand in its dealings with Europe.
The other part of the bargain is the revival of negotiations to admit Turkey to the EU. If Turkey is ever successful in that endeavor, it would spell game-over for Europe. If Erdogan wants to re-establish the caliphate, and if he is so keen on union with Europe, it is likely that he envisions Europe as part of the future caliphate. This is something that the Ottoman sultans dreamed of, but were never able to accomplish. But Erdogan might be able to pull it off. There is now a very large contingent of Turks in Germany who seem to bear more allegiance to him than to Germany. And all over Europe there exists a fifth column of active and potential Islamists ready to be activated. As for the other four columns, it’s worth keeping in mind that Turkey has the second largest army in NATO (the U.S. has the largest). And with many of the generals who coordinated with NATO now in jail, Turkey’s loyalty to NATO is very much in question.
There is one other factor to consider. During and after the coup attempt, Erdogan shut down Incirlik Air Base, which is home to 1,500 American soldiers as well as other NATO troops. The Turkish government cut off the base’s electricity supply, temporarily suspended flights, and arrested the base commander, General Ercan Van. The base reportedly houses 50 nuclear warheads. The bombs are controlled by the U.S. forces in Turkey, but could they by means sudden or gradual fall under the control of Turkey? And if they did, would the U.S. dare to do anything about it?
By many accounts, Erdogan is a true believer who, in his own way, is every bit as fanatical as the ayatollahs in Iran. The man who built a thousand-room palace for himself might well believe that a restored caliphate should possess all the weapons that befit a great world power. With Erdogan’s latest consolidation of power, an already dangerous world just became a lot more dangerous.
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