Barely a day goes by without a significant development that gives an idea about what might befall the Middle East during Barack Obama’s remaining days in the White House.
A few weeks ago press reports suggested that Washington’s strategy in the region includes its control of Iraq while leaving Syria to Moscow. In fact, if realistic analysts have huge reservations regarding how much influence Washington still enjoys in Iraq, where U.S.-enabled Iran has created new facts on the ground, it seems that Obama’s handing over what remains of Syria to Russia is now a reality.
What takes place in Syria, as well as Lebanon, is supposed to affect Israel’s interests as a major regional player, although ostensibly no one is willing to talk about it. Still, it is more than likely that Israel would have a say in any political deal in Syria and Lebanon. This means that, against the background of Arab disunity, we are facing a ‘scenario’ that includes two heavyweight global players – Russia on one side, and the USA and its Western allies on the other. Then there are the three influential regional players: Iran, Israel and Turkey.
Washington is providing Moscow’s plans and actions with every possible help.Eyad Abu Shakra
The U.S.-Iran Nuclear Agreement (JCPOA), which has all but collapsed leaving only its political consequences, was the first regional event with strategic importance since the invasion of Iraq and handing it to Iran’s henchmen. Faced with Arab reservations and expressed unease, Washington sought to reassure its Arab ‘friends’ by repeating its boring monologue – one that some wanted to believe but that many wouldn’t – that America ‘remains committed to the security of its regional friends, namely Israel and the GCC states’.
Negative stance on Syria
Noteworthy, of course, was how Washington underlined the security of Israel and the GCC states while saying nothing about the other Mashriq states, namely Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
Indeed, the priorities of the U.S.-Iran Nuclear Agreement have been thought to influence Washington’s negative stance towards the Syrian uprising, reflected in empty verbal denouncements, active military aid to Kurdish secessionists in northern Syria, and stubborn refusal of any practical backing to the uprising such as providing suitable advanced weapons and creating ‘safe havens’ and ‘no fly zones’.
The Russian leadership, on its part, has been doing just the opposite. It has been providing support to Iran’s military intervention; and then under the pretext of fighting ‘extremist groups’ has now become an active combatant on the ground that intentionally ignores ISIS in order to concentrate on saving Bashar al-Assad’s regime, killing off the Syrian uprising, dividing and undermining the opposition, and carrying out operations of ethnic and sectarian cleansing targeting the Turkmen and Sunni Arabs.
Moscow is currently escalating its war aiming to geographically and logistically separate Turkey from Syria, while Washington is supporting secessionist Kurds, some of whom are linked to Assad’s regime, as well as the newly formed Syrian Democratic Forces, now exclusively fighting ISIS alongside the Kurds without firing a shot in anger against the Assad forces!
Thus, the ‘Turkish Area’ Washington is trying to create in north eastern Syria from Ain Diwar (East) to Jarablus (West) complements Moscow’s efforts to sabotage and ruin Turkey’s attempts to create a ‘safe haven’ extending from Jarablus (East) to the west of A’zaz inhabited by a Turkmen and Arab majority. It is a well-known fact that Turkey needs such a ‘safe haven’ for two reasons. Firstly in order to relieve the crisis of refugees across its borders, and secondly, to prevent the creation of a Kurdish ‘mini-state’ along the Turko-Syrian borders that includes the mainly Syrian Kurdish pocket of ‘Afrin in the west bordering the Turkish Hatay Province.
Furthermore, Moscow is working openly and assiduously to uproot and expel the Turkmen population from northern Syria, claiming they have been an ‘incubator’ of Turkish influence, while accusing Ankara of actively aiding ISIS and covering up its crimes. In fact, as the Assad regime has done its share of uprooting and expelling the Syrian Turkmen from Greater Damascus and the Provinces of Homs and Aleppo, Russia is now doing the same in the Province of Latakia.
This Russian escalation has exploited three consecutive events: The Russian airliner tragedy over Sinai; the Paris attacks; and Turkey’s downing of a Russian fighter-bomber after entering its airspace over the Hatay Province.
Moscow’s own war
The picture is now clear, is it not? Under the pretext of fighting ISIS, which in reality does not seem to be a priority for anyone for the time being at least, Moscow is fighting its own war to extend its own influence, support its ‘tactical’ ally Iran, destroy the influence of Turkey, and subsequently, ‘Sunni Political Islam’ throughout the region.
In return, Washington is providing Moscow’s plans and actions with every possible help. It is stipulating that the Syrian opposition fighters it is training and arming should not fight the Assad forces, only ISIS. It has left the civilian populations of Greater Damascus, Aleppo and Homs unprotected by continuously rejecting calls for ‘safe havens’ and ‘no fly zones’, while rushing to aid the Kurdish militias in Ain Al-Arab (Kobani) and the Al-Hasakah Province; and is now ignoring Russia’s military intervention and letting down its old NATO ally, Turkey, as the latter is confronting Moscow’s bullying and threats against its people and interests.
The fact is that what looks like an American ‘no stance’ isn’t a ‘no stance’ or ‘miscalculation’ anymore. It is actually a well-thought out strategy and those behind it know only too well where it is leading. However, they do not care much about the exorbitant price the Middle East is going to pay for in terms of human suffering. The region may soon become a fertile soil for a new generation of even more extremist, angry and alienated generation of terrorists.
The history of the Middle East was associated with Turkey for more than 400 years (from 1516 to 1918) since the battle of Marj Dabiq (near Aleppo) that opened the region to the Ottoman Empire. This association did not necessarily end after the Ottoman defeat in WW1 in 1918.
Today, almost one century later, the leaders of Russia and Iran are attempting to sever the last links by geographically separating Arabs from Turks by a ‘Kurdish belt’ and a ‘Shi’ite belt’, and this is with American blessings!
How will the Middle East look after November 2016? Well, one only hopes President Obama causes no more damage.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 2, 2015.
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.
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