There is a “game of nations” being played out at the bank of the Euphrates with its ripple effect reaching far and wide. As a result, wars break out, borders are erased and drawn, countries become strong and weak, organizations fold up, cities become packed with refugees while others are destroyed.
There are sieges starving hundreds of thousands and detention and torture centers are transforming into slaughterhouses. There are mass graves with no names and militias made of mercenaries put together by neighbors and strangers.
Turks have struggled to build their country and fight tooth and nail to defend it. The Turkish government, which was cautious, shut its European gates and opened its eastern gate and it thus became the most involved and dangerous state. Turkey devised a policy without rivals; therefore, enemies increased inside and outside Turkey.
Immigrant Fethullah Gulen established schools outside Turkey and planted opposition inside the country. This opposition was established in the army, administration and judiciary. He could’ve established a peaceful, parliamentary, democratic and public opposition. His supporters were later accused of a failed bloody coup.
The Ottoman Empire seized the Anatolian Plateau during the Middle Ages and expelled the Persian invaders. The Kurds’ presence was strong and they could not peacefully mingle with the majority and they’re neither capable of separating by force.
The Kurds exploited their neighbors’ weakness and established a semi-autonomous state in Iraq’s Kurdistan. They seized the revolution of a blind Syria which politicized its Islam and abandoned its Arabism and they established an autonomous state East of the Euphrates. This state is capable of expanding to Iraq’s Kurdistan. They crossed the Euphrates to the west to complete drawing a Syrian Kurdistan but they clashed with Turkey which is afraid over its national and border security and over its communication with Syria’s and Iraq’s Arabs.
Russians crossed the Bosphorus Strait to get involved in Syria so they were forced to be polite to Turkey. Turks crossed Syrian borders to end the Kurds’ dream of establishing a state on an Arab territory. They organized an armed Syrian opposition (the Free Syrian Army) and assigned it the task to liberate the strategic al-Bab town from ISIS. This opposition spent months without doing anything and it was too lazy to execute the task. The Turks closed al-Bab borders from the north, east and west and left the south open for ISIS to escape through it.
Where does the US stand in this auction of the ”game of the nations”? If the honeymoon continues between Trump and Putin, the US role will continue to be underneath the Russian umbrellaGhassan Imam
Aleppo and Iran
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad destroyed Aleppo and Iran encouraged him and this empowered him. Iran supplied Assad with Hezbollah mercenaries and pushed him to try his luck at seizing al-Bab from the Turks through the southern gate. Yes, through the south. The game of nations put Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Assad in a state of war at the gates of al-Bab.
ISIS awaits the end of its state in Iraq this year, and it depends on its terrorist operations inside Turkey and on Iran and its mercenaries’ war against Turkey in al-Bab to survive in Syria. Why does al-Bab open all these doors? ISIS considers al-Bab a gate of logistical communication after the eastern gate of Mosul was shut down. Is Assad’s regime capable of engaging in a war of attrition against Turkey in Syria?
Perhaps it can if Iran is capable of supporting and funding the Syrian regime that has been drained in terms of personnel and money during the six years of war. It may also be able to do so if Russia proves itself capable of curbing the Turkish power that’s superior in the Syrian pocket it occupies.
Turkey lost soldiers in al-Bab and it hopes its Syrian pocket – about 5,000 square kilometers – turns into a safe zone that houses hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees. This would ease the situation on it now that it houses 3.5 million refugees. Turkey can expand the area with the arrival of its army to Aleppo – which Turkey has longed for in the “game of nations” which ended the Ottoman Empire in the 1920s.
Turkish-Russian relations continue to pose a problem shrouded in a lot of mystery. Turkey got a slap on the wrist through the Russian raid on al-Bab in which three Turkish soldiers were killed. This followed a Russian apology and a promise to organize and coordinate military activity.
Iran and Assad claim that Russia neutralized Turkey in al-Bab and allowed them to occupy the strategic town. The Topkapı Palace in Istanbul announced that its forces entered al-Bab and is carrying out a combing operation to cleanse it of ISIS members.
This means that Turkish forces will prevent Assad’s mercenaries from entering al-Bab unless there is another arrangement between Turkey and Russia. Turkey is not revealing the secret and Russia is not giving up its silence. Turkey’s abandonment of al-Bab will be met with accepting Turkey’s participation in the battle to liberate Raqqa from ISIS control and preventing Kurdish militias, which are supported by the Kurdistan Workers’ Party in Turkey, from advancing toward Raqqa by using American tanks which former US President Obama and the incumbent Trump supplied them with.
The Turkish strategic aim is to undermine Kurdish autonomy which was established alongside Turkish borders in East of Euphrates. With that, Turkey will have succeeded at ending the Kurdish dream of establishing a Kurdish state in North Syria upon American and European support.
Where is America in this auction of the game of the nations? If the honeymoon continues between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin, the American role will continue to be underneath the Russian umbrella. There are also mutual interests involved in dispelling religious violence and eliminating ISIS and al-Nusra Front, which is now known as Jabhat Fateh al-Sham and which American air force has exclusively targeted in Idlib.
Where are Arabs in the game of the nations? Kazakhstan attended the Astana meeting while Arabs remained absent – except for Jordan, which attended as an observer following consultations with Kremlin and Washington.
Perhaps international and regional circumstances allow establishing a safe zone for refugees and displaced people stranded at borders. This way ISIS will not invade them with Sejil stones, Assad will not terminate them with barrel bombs and they will not be shelled with Sukhoi and F-35 fighters.
The Arabs put their eggs in the Turkish basket and sat down to watch the proceedings in Astana and in Geneva. But where is Staffan de Mistura? He too is betting on the wand of the Russian maestro as consultations are better with the comrade Sergei Lavrov. He’s the auctioneer. He’s the one who drafted the constitution and who coordinator for the transitional regime. He’s the one managing a regime that refuses to transition to the afterlife.
Who is bidding? Who is buying and selling in Syria? The bidders are many and the maestro is ready. And the game of the nations, going once, twice, going three times.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Ghassan Imam is a Syrian journalist and writer.