Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, in support of a statement from the U.S. Embassy in Ankara on August 7, 2019, that the two sides, the Turkish and the US, reached an agreement on the safe area east of the Euphrates, a surprise to all followers of the engagement of the two allies in Syria. This round of talks between the two sides on their differences in Syria began only two days ago; as in previous rounds, expectations were likely to fail to reach an agreement, and await Ankara's reaction, especially after the Turkish president had confirmed the day before the announcement of the agreement that a Turkish military operation east The Euphrates is imminent, and Ankara has informed Washington and Moscow.
On August 24, the Turkish defense minister announced that the Turkish-American Joint Operations Center (which is believed to be based in the city of Urfa and is supposed to run and oversee the safe area) has already begun. At the same time, the Americans published photographs revealing that the Syrian Democratic Forces (the Kurdish militias of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the PYD, its mainstay and command) were destroying tunnels and fortifications on the Turkish border.
But what appeared to be tangible progress in terms of emerging from the crisis of Turkish-US relations in northern Syria did not put an end to the questions that still surround the agreement between the two NATO allies to contain their differences in northern Syria. Nor have the US-Turkish truce indicators put an end to Turkey's difficulties in Syria. As the level of Turkish-American tension subsided, Ankara found itself facing new complications in its relationship with its Russian friends in the Syrian arena. During the past few months, despite the agreement on preventing escalation in areas of regime and opposition clashes in Syria, Assad regime forces began sporadic shelling of armed opposition forces in the countryside of Hama and the outskirts of Idlib province; the two areas also witnessed limited confrontations between the opposition and pro-Assad militias, particularly those Formed and supervised by the Russian leadership in Syria. In the third week of August, limited confrontations turned into a brutal offensive to take control of the city of Khan Sheikhoun and besiege the opposition in Hama countryside.
Iran, Turkey's Islamic neighbor and main rival in the Arab neighborhood, also faces equally serious challenges in Syria and Iraq. Israeli attacks on positions and storage sites of Iran or its allies in Syria have continued unabated for more than three years. What is new, however, is that Israeli attacks are now prolonging the goals of Iran and its allies in Iraq, whose government (friendly to both Iran and the United States) is working to avert a possible clash between Iran and its regional instruments, on the one hand, and the United States and its regional allies, on the other, at home.
Until recently, Syria was seen as an arena of armed confrontation, albeit indirectly, between Turkey and Iran. Iraq has also been a fierce battleground between the Sunni and Shiite allies of the two countries. What challenges do the two countries face today in Syria and Iraq? There has been a truce in the rivalry between Ankara and Tehran over the past few years. Why do they seem to be pushed out of Syria and Iraq altogether, or at least to impose their influence?
Turkey, Russia, and the United States
Turkey, which has maintained close ties to the Assad regime since 2004, became a direct party to the Syrian crisis only in the second year of the Syrian revolution. During most of 2011, the Turkish government of justice and development tried to push the Syrian president to undertake radical reforms, and to meet his people halfway. But the escalation of regime violence against demonstrators and the loss of hope in Assad's determination to respond to demands for democratic reform led Ankara to adopt a policy of supporting the SPLM and its demands for regime change. Over the next few years, Turkey, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, with US support, provided tangible support to Syrian opposition forces, and Turkey received increasing numbers of Syrian refugees. Because Iran stood, directly or through Hezbollah, alongside Assad, it was clear that Syria had become a battleground between Turkey and its Arab allies, on the one hand, and Iran and its Shiite armed tools, of all nationalities, on the other.
Since 2015, the Syrian crisis has entered a new phase. Russia entered a direct party to provide military support to the Assad regime and its allies; the United States supported Syrian Kurdish militias in battle with ISIS in northern, northeast, and eastern Syria. Naturally, for various reasons in both cases, the discrepancy between Turkish policy in Syria and Russian and US policies was exacerbated.
With the signing of the Non-Escalation Agreement in September 2017, Ankara and Moscow appeared to have found a way to agree to regulate the relationship in Syria, especially after the pace of Turkish-Russian rapprochement accelerated after the failed Turkish coup attempt in July 2016, and widened Turkish-US differences during Obama's second term, in Syria and in the region as a whole. The rapprochement between Ankara and Moscow has been strengthened by the signing of the first contract for the purchase of the Russian anti-aircraft system S400, and Russia's agreement to the operation of the olive branch, 2018, Turkish against Kurdish militias in the Afrin region.
However, the Turkish-American divergence in Syria has widened. Ankara hoped to find a solution to the differences with Washington by taking Trump as president; Trump seemed more receptive to the Turkish point of view and more willing to withdraw from Syria, after the defeat of the Islamic State and there was no justification for the US support to the Kurdish militias, militarily and materially, And politically. But under pressure from his administration, the US president quickly backed away from promises of a full withdrawal from Syria, handing over Turkey's responsibilities to maintaining security in northern Syria east of the Euphrates and dealing with the remaining ISIS groups in the rural east and northeast.
SDF Spokesperson's Statement of Forces Determination to Do Everything Necessary to Accord with Turkey is an Indication of Kurdish Militias Response to US Pressure
Since the spring of 2019, Turkey, in turn, has massed its forces on the border with Syria, and has categorically announced that its forces will conduct a comprehensive operation east of the Euphrates to eliminate Kurdish militias, closely linked to the PKK, regardless of the US position. Washington's appreciation of the seriousness of the Turkish position launched the long negotiations, which lasted for more than three months, and ended with the signing of the Safe Zone Agreement, which remains unclear on many aspects.
There is no doubt that the establishment of the Joint Operations Center, which will oversee the safe area, led by two generals, Turkish and American, is a positive sign of the effectiveness of the agreement and the credibility of the American side. Turkey has already begun drones to monitor the border and Kurdish militia activities in the region. The announcement by the SDF spokesman of the intention of the forces to do whatever is necessary to achieve compatibility with Turkey is another indication of the response of Kurdish militias to US pressure. But there are outstanding questions, for which there does not seem to be a clear answer yet.
Turkey has demanded from the outset the removal of Kurdish militias from an area of thirty kilometers deep on the Syrian side of the border, but what is happening now is to work only five kilometers deep. Is this a first stage, followed by other stages to respond to Turkish demands, or is the US side using the time factor, in order to prevent Turkey from undertaking a comprehensive and deep military operation east of the Euphrates? The other issue is that the Turkish side wanted to establish a local administration in the region, from the Syrian towns and villages east of the Euphrates, which is predominantly Sunni Arab, but since the signing of the agreement, the US side has never talked about a local administration, and there is no indication of measures to organize this administration. Even in the five-kilometer bar that Kurdish militias appear to be evacuating in the first phase.
The third, and equally important, issue is that the Ankara East Euphrates project is based on the idea of a safe area, suitable for receiving hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees, while the term "safe zone" has not yet been mentioned in the statements of US officials, and it is not clear whether they will work on Rehabilitation of the Joint Supervision Area to encourage Syrian refugees to return, as happened in Jarablus, Bab and Afrin.
The ambiguity surrounding the agreement with the Americans and the uncertainty of the depth, size and nature of the safe area is not the only challenge facing Turkish policy in Syria. Since the Turkish-US negotiations on the eastern Euphrates, doubts have been raised in the Turkish-Russian-Iranian agreement on the non-escalation of the growing clashes between Pro-Russian Syrian militias and armed opposition forces in Hama countryside and southern Idlib. Indeed, Russia, Iran, and the Assad regime have grossly breached the no-escalation agreement in rural Damascus, without Turkey finding a way to stop its partners. But undermining the agreement in Idlib and its vicinity is another matter altogether, given that this area is under joint Turkish-Russian supervision and the presence of Turkish military checkpoints in its vicinity.
What the Russian side says is that Turkey has not succeeded in removing Jabhat al-Nusra from the no-escalation zone, and that Turkey is therefore responsible for the breach of the agreement. But Russia (and the Assad regime) probably feared the consequences of a unilateral Turkish operation east of the Euphrates, or of a possible Turkish-US agreement, that would give Turkey additional control over the Syrian highways 4 and 5. Therefore, to secure the two roads in the area west of the Euphrates, Russia launched a large-scale military operation to remove the armed opposition forces from the countryside of Hama altogether, and from the city of Khan Sheikhoun in Idlib province, a goal already achieved, after a series of fierce battles and bloody attacks on towns and villages in the region. , At the end of the third week of August.
What is striking is the incomprehensible American procrastination in accepting Turkey's logical, strategic and humanitarian demands, east of the Euphrates, although the justification for US support for Kurdish militias to counter ISIS is no longer justified. While Russia is dealing painful blows to Turkish influence in and around Idlib, there is no Russian military activity, or the Assad regime and its Shiite militia allies, in the vast area east of the Euphrates, controlled by Kurdish militias, even after the US military presence in the region has declined for several Hundreds of soldiers.
Iran in Syria and Iraq
Tehran is now seeing a Russian-American understanding, supported by the Jewish state, about its removal or significantly weakening its influence in Syria.
Iran was the first and main ally of the Assad regime in its war against its people; without the support of Iran and Shia militias, the Syrian opposition had already toppled the regime in the summer and fall of 2013. Iran, too, invited and encouraged Russia to enter the military directly in Syria, in the fall of 2015, When it became clear that they and the Assad regime were on the way to losing the battle with the opposition.
However, since the spring of 2019, the Iranians have been observing a vigorous Russian effort to drive them out, or at least weaken their influence in Syria. The Russians organized pro-Syrian Syrian militias, armed and ordered by the Russian leadership at the Hmeimim base. The Russians also pushed the regime to make large-scale changes in the Syrian army leadership and in the regime's security and intelligence services, with the aim of excluding Iran's allies and friends. In more than one case, especially in the relationship with Turkey and the United States, the Russians made agreements on Syria, without consulting the Iranian side, or the regime. This approach does not deviate from the wide-ranging partnerships between Russian companies and banks with Syrian businessmen, and Sunnis in particular, and pushed them to oppose Iranian influence in their country. Most serious of all, the tacit understanding between Russia and Israel, which allowed the latter to deal painful blows to Iranian sites, including specific military depots, throughout Syria, without any reaction from the Russian side, which controls the entire Syrian airspace.
The Iranian exit from Syria was one of the main American demands announced by the Trump administration within the terms of negotiations with Iran and the beginning of a new phase of relations. There are increasing indications in Tehran that Russia is not opposed to this American demand (Israel, of course), but is working hard to achieve it, seeking Russia to unite on Syria, and aware of Moscow because the West will not cooperate in rebuilding Syria without an Iranian military exit from it . In other words, Tehran is now seeing a Russian-American understanding, supported by the Jewish state, about its removal or significantly weakening its influence in Syria.
Over the past few months, after the Iranians thought that their military allies in Yemen in the battle with Saudi Arabia had improved significantly, the range of threats to Iranian influence in the region was widening, not just because of the heavy US blockade. Unsurprisingly, without prior expectations, a military base of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces in Salah al-Din governorate was bombed on 19 July. It later turned out that a number of IRGC officers, who were at the base, were injured or killed, and that al-Qaeda had included Iranian weapons depots. Why are the Iranians stockpiling weapons in Hashd camps? Not quite clear. One possibility is that Iran is stockpiling weapons in Iraq in preparation for a possible confrontation in the region with the Americans. The other possibility is that this weapon is supposed to be transported in a timely manner to Syria, and that Iraq was chosen as a safe storage station from the Israeli bombing on a temporary basis.
It is hard to imagine Israel carrying out this series of attacks on Iraqi targets, without the knowledge, acceptance, and perhaps support of Russia and the United States
Iraqi officials did not accuse anyone, but announced a decision to form a committee to investigate the incident; the Iraqi government presidency may have found it embarrassing to acknowledge the use by the IRGC of the PMF camps as weapons depots. But Iraqi authorities were certain that the drones that bombed the Hashd base were Israeli aircraft.
A few days after the al-Qaeda incident in Salah al-Din province, another crowd base on the Iranian border was bombed, as well as by drones. On August 12, the huge al-Saqr base, south of Baghdad, operated by Sayyid al-Shuhada militias in the Popular Mobilization, was bombed close to the Iranians. On August 20, a Hashd camp was bombed near Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad. On 25 August, in the fifth incident in two months, another Hashd camp was bombed near the Iraqi border town of Qaim with Syria. In all of these attacks, casualties are believed to have occurred between members of the Hashd and the IRGC, as well as the extensive destruction of weapons depots at the targeted bases.
As Iraqi airspace and bombings, which can no longer be concealed, are repeatedly disregarded by the PMU, Iraqi officials have varied between those who accused the Israelis and those who pointed to the Americans' responsibility. In contrast, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was more explicit in a media interview, August 23, 2019, when he said he had ordered the Iranians to be pursued throughout the territory, and that Iran should realize that it had no immunity in the neighborhood.
But if there is no doubt as to who is responsible for these attacks, how have the Israeli drones been able to reach Iraqi depth? Israeli experts and commentators close to Israeli circles have tried to provide misleading answers to this question, such as saying that the planes were fired into Iraq from Azerbaijan through Iranian airspace, or from Israel itself and through Syrian or Jordanian airspace. Both possibilities are not supported by the facts, given the high risks that drones could face in the airspace of Syria, Jordan or Iran. It is likely, according to Iraqi sources, that the planes were fired from the SDF's control areas in northeastern and eastern Syria, and that Saudi Arabia was not only funding the operation, but also establishing the agreement between the Syrian Kurdish forces and the Israelis.
However, given Russia's capabilities in Syria, the United States in Iraq and the SDF-controlled areas in Syria, it is hard to imagine Israel carrying out this series of attacks on Iraqi targets, without the knowledge, acceptance, and possibly support of Russia and the United States. .
The intensification of international and regional scramble in the Levant
One of the aides of the late president, d. Mohamed Morsi accompanied him on his visit to Russia and meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Sochi, April 2013 Morsi insisted on putting the Syrian issue on the agenda. At the appropriate moment of the meeting, Morsi went to Putin, saying: "I am determined to work to find a solution to the Syrian conflict, and I want to know from President Putin the nature of Russian interests in Syria." Putin replied: "This is the first time I have heard serious talk about the Syrian crisis; what I want to make clear is that Russia sees a Western tendency to share influence in the Middle East, in isolation from Russia, and we will not allow it." This was, of course, long before Russia entered a direct party to the conflict in Syria, and before the US military redeployment in Syria and Iraq, after the significant geographical expansion of ISIS in both countries.
From this point of view, Moscow's role in Syria did not stem from an ideological or moral obligation to maintain the Assad regime. Syria is the pillar of Russian calculations, not the regime. Syria is not only a Russian foothold in the heart of the Middle East, but also a geopolitical weight in larger and larger calculations, starting in Ukraine and not standing on the shores of the Gulf. Just as the United States sees its influence in the Gulf, in Egypt, and even in northern Syria and Iraq. Because the big powers assume that their spheres of influence must be monopolized, in which they freely exercise policies that serve their interests, it makes sense not to welcome regional or non-regional partners in these areas.
Syria, whether for its multitude of players or for its prolonged crisis, has become a bright mirror of how major Western powers are trying to curb regional powers' ambitions.
There should be no doubt that Iran and Turkey have become a source of constant headaches for the influence of the two major powers in the Orient's political defenses. Syria, both multiplayer and prolonged, has become a shining mirror of how major Western powers are trying to rein in regional powers' aspirations and abort their quest to assert themselves and their role in the region.
Behind this framework of power relations, one can see a series of heated stampedes in Syria and Iraq. Both major powers, the United States and Russia, want Iran and Turkey out of Syria and Iraq, or at least marginalize their role. One of the immediate reasons for this policy is to preserve the security and superiority of the Hebrew state. Another reason is the growing concern over Iran's expansion policy in more than one Mashreq country. No less important is Russia's endeavor to put an end to the Syrian crisis, to avoid becoming a quagmire and a source of fatigue for Russian military and politics; and thus to assert the sovereignty of the Syrian state on its territory.
Therefore, the US agreement with Turkey should be seen as the beginning of a long and stumbling road, not a sincere response to Turkish security demands.The United States' primary goal in Syria now is to prevent large-scale Turkish military intervention east of the Euphrates, and to maintain Kurdish militias and control over as much of the east of Syria as possible, not only to carry out missions to counter ISIS cells in the region, but also to target neighboring Iran and prevent them from Providing lines of communication from the Iranian west to the Mediterranean coast. Russia, in fact, agrees with these American-Israeli goals, both with regard to Iran and Turkey. This assessment of the US position may have prompted Erdogan, in an August 26 speech, to warn against a slowdown in the implementation of the agreement and to indicate that Turkish forces are still ready to enter the eastern Euphrates alone.
Russia, however, while welcoming US-Israeli pressure on Iran and Washington's efforts to prevent a Turkish invasion of the eastern Euphrates, hopes that the US military presence in Syria's northeast will not last long. In Moscow's perception, Kurdish militias will have to reach a quick political understanding with Damascus at the moment the Americans decide to leave Syria, or they will be dealt with by force of arms and Damascus's return to control of the region.
What was new in this overlapping and moving situation was the Saudi entry, which probably began seriously after the visit of Tamer al-Sabhan, the Saudi minister of state, (coming via Iraqi Kurdistan, not Turkey), to the Kurdish-controlled area in northeastern Syria and meeting with Kurdish leaders on June 19 / Last June (2019). Saudi ties with Syrian Kurdish armed groups (with US encouragement) appear to be intended not only to rival Turkey, but also to create conditions for expanding Israeli strikes on Iranian checkpoints and warehouses in Iraq, and to counter Tehran's attempts to strengthen its geopolitical position in Syria.
Generally, this stampede of forces, regionally and internationally, takes place under the guise of all-out war or large-scale military confrontation. In other words, all the limbs are working hard, but limited, by the opponent, or the opponents, without going away. It seems that one of the parties does not want war, but all parties openly declare their desire to avoid escalation to the level of war. But such a clash of forces has not been seen in other parts of the world for decades; things could reach a moment when it is difficult for prior intentions to control the accelerated pace, especially if the key regional powers, Turkey and Iran, which have a direct stake in their regional neighborhood, find that There is no other way to end its losses.
This topic is from Al Jazeera Center for Studies.