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.
Presidents of Iran and Russia have stressed the importance of accelerating the development of bilateral relations in all fields.
In a meeting in the Azeri capital city of Baku on Monday, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, said Tehran and Moscow need to make more efforts to speed up the development of all-out cooperation.
Putin pointed to his key visit to Iran last November and his meetings with senior Iranian officials, particularly with Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei, saying that Tehran and Moscow have managed to take very good steps toward the expansion of relations and that the two sides will continue to maintain their consolidated ties.
The Russian leader said that Moscow-Tehran ties have turned into an all-out strategic cooperation in different sectors, including politics and economy, the Kremlin website reported.
“Our friendly relations are strengthening. I am pleased that they are multi-faceted. This applies to the economic relations, political contacts in all areas. It also applies to the humanitarian sphere,” the Russian president said.
Relations between Iran and Russia have developed in all sectors, Putin said, stressing that he saw a bright prospect for the ties between the two countries.
Rouhani, for his part, praised his meeting with Putin as well as the Russian president’s visit to Iran and his talks with Iranian officials last year.
Heading a high-ranking delegation, the Iranian president arrived in Baku on Sunday for a two-day visit to hold talks and discuss matters of mutual interest with his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev and Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
On Sunday, Rouhani met and attended a joint press conference with Aliyev, during which the two sides talked about bilateral ties as well as regional developments.
By Press TV
Russian forces in Syria have fired at least twice on Israeli military aircraft, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to seek improved operational coordination with Moscow, Israel’s top-selling newspaper said on Friday.
The unsourced report in Yedioth Ahronoth gave no dates or locations for the incidents nor any indication Israeli planes were hit. Russia mounted its military intervention in Syria in September to shore Damascus up amid a now 5-year-old rebellion.
Separately, Israel’s Channel 10 TV said a Russian warplane approached an Israeli warplane off the Mediterranean coast of Syria last week but that there was no contact between them.
An Israeli military spokesman declined comment. Netanyahu’s office and the Russian embassy in Israel did not immediately respond.
Israel, which has repeatedly bombed Syria to foil suspected arms handovers to Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas, was quick to set up an operational hotline with Moscow designed to avoid accidentally trading fire with Russian interventionary forces.
Visiting Moscow on Thursday, Netanyahu told Russian President Vladimir Putin in televised remarks: “I came here with one main goal – to strengthen the security coordination between us so as to avoid mishaps, misunderstandings and unnecessary confrontations.”
In an apparent allusion to Syria, Putin said: “I think there are understandable reasons for these intensive contacts (with Israel), given the complicated situation in the region.”
According to Yedioth, the reported Russian fire on Israeli planes was first raised with Putin by Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who visited Moscow on March 15. At the time, Putin responded that he was unaware of the incidents, Yedioth said.