Gdansk of the Levant, an introduction to ‘drawing maps’

The issue of Kobane and the military intervention there has most probably become one of ‘drawing maps,’ and Turkey, Iran and Israel sense this

Eyad Abu Shakra

Published: Updated:

Ain al-Arab, or Kobane as the Turks and Kurds call it, has become more important than Aleppo in the calculations of Middle Eastern policy making.

Developments in this small, predominantly Kurdish town has necessitated American and international action. This action was not easily made available to Aleppo over the past three years although Aleppo is the biggest Syrian metropolis, the second oldest city in the world and the capital of the governorate to which Ain al-Arab belongs.

In these difficult hours, Aleppo faces an escalation of attacks by regime forces. Objective reports indicate that the regime is not only seeking to end the control of areas in Aleppo presently in the hands of revolutionary and Islamist militant forces but it is also confidently working – with the help of sectarian militias – to regain control of the situation in northwest Syria. It is thus making use of the international community’s failure to notice its criminality and of the international community’s focus on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) amid an apparent absence of a clear strategy for any post-ISIS phase.

Washington has not clarified yet what will be the fate of areas that alliance air strikes will hopefully keep ISIS away from. Western states and Washington in particular are unlikely to be concerned with the fate of areas to be liberated in the future, especially after U.S. officials implied that toppling Bashar al-Assad was no longer one of the administration’s priorities. This is in stark contrast to stances in most Arab capitals participating in the anti-ISIS alliance and is in complete contradiction with the announced stance of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government.

Washington has not clarified yet what will be the fate of areas that alliance air strikes will hopefully keep ISIS away from.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Why has Ain al-Arab become the Gdansk of Levant countries overnight? Why has this town become a flashpoint necessitating international military intervention although just hinting of a similar military intervention would have been more useful to Syria three years ago? The issue has most probably become one of “drawing maps.” This is what Turkey, Iran and of course Israel are strongly sensing now.

The competition over the leadership of the Islamic world between major powers is nothing new. The Turkish-Iranian struggle is also nothing new and we’ve witnessed it during different eras. There were many occasions when Arab countries were arenas for this struggle and the Ottoman-Safavid confrontation, which had the most dangerous repercussions on the Arabs of the Levant, was the latest round. One of the important features of this confrontation is its sectarian nature – Sunni (Hanafi) versus Shiite (Jaafari) – which poses destructive repercussions on the fragile fabric of Arab entities.

Turkey has no intention to engage in a regional struggle that does not end with a tangible formula which takes into consideration of its geopolitical interests. Turkey does not have an interest in resolving the Kurdish crisis out of its own pocket.

Ankara, under the present Islamist-Erdogan era, will also not accept to be marginalized as a prominent regional Sunni player at a time when Iran, under the “Velayat-e faqih,” is expanding its influence and designating itself the protector of Shiites in areas which were once part of the Ottoman Empire until 1918.

Iran has for a long time been active in establishing its protected areas inside the Arab world, particularly in the Arab Levant, beginning with Iraq. It is really naive for any political analyst to deny that Iran now widely overlooks the Mediterranean, beginning with Tyre, the southern Lebanese city that borders Israel, to the relatively close Latakia, which borders Turkey to the north.

Turkey has no intention to engage in a regional struggle that does not end with a tangible formula which takes into consideration of its geopolitical interests.

Eyad Abu Shakra

Israeli silence?

Last but not least, isn’t the official Israeli silence odd? Is it possible for Israel not to weighing its regional calculations at a time when Islamist factions from the Syrian opposition are progressing toward the Purple Line in the occupied Golan? All we hear from Tel Aviv today are calculated intelligence “leaks” on the best options for Israel either by retired officers or strategic researchers at others.

Meanwhile the Syrian situation escalates and polarization between the extremism of ISIS and the Iranian project accelerates.

Iran was the biggest winner of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 – an invasion which the pro-Likud neoconservatives were its most prominent sponsors in Washington.

Iran was the biggest winner of the invasion of Iraq in 2003

Eyad Abu Shakra

We must admit that Turkey’s stance at the time – against dividing Iraq – is what kept the latter as one entity even though it was fragile and not united. I think Turkey could have maneuvered in a stronger manner today if it had abstained from launching a poorly directed and ill-timed battle with Egypt in the wake of the changes that led to the removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power.

Erdogan’s government committed the Brotherhood’s mistake of rushing to empower itself.

Unfortunately, the same thing is also happening in the ranks of the Syrian opposition as Islamist parties consider the circumstances appropriate to impose their priorities on all revolutionary forces even though they are aware that taking the leadership of the Syrian revolution, even if at the expense of the opposition’s unity, will certainly lead to the hesitation of minorities from abandoning the ship of the sinking regime and toward enhancing the logic of the Syrian revolution’s rivals in the West and the Arab world that the region does not need another model of political Islam.

This Turkish mistake created a gap in Turkish-Egyptian relations and in Turkish-Gulf relations. These two gaps helped the expansion of the Iranian scheme all the way from the Levant to Yemen and without any resistance worth mentioning. And now given Washington’s implicit adoption of the Iranian-Russian account of what’s happening in Syria since 2011 and given its silence over the Houthi invasion of Yemen – as it seems this invasion is only being confronted by extremist Sunni groups, including Al-Qaeda – we may find ourselves seeing a similar situation in Yemen, i.e. there will be international support for Shiite extremism to confront Sunni extremism. The international approach and particularly the American approach have weakened the logic of moderation, enhanced the credibility of extremists and driven desperate men toward the path of extremism.

This article was first published in Ash-Sharq al-Awsat newspaper on Tuesday, Oct. 21, 2014.


Eyad Abu Shakra (also written as Ayad Abou-Chakra) began his media career in 1973 with Annahar newspaper in Lebanon. He joined Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper in the UK in 1979, occupying several positions including: Senior Editor, Managing Editor, and Head of Research Unit, as well as being a regular columnist. He has several published works, including books, chapters in edited books, and specialized articles, in addition to frequent regular TV and radio appearances.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.