by Ghassan Kadi
Is the genie finally out of the bottle?
A myriad of seemingly unrelated events and loose ends are converging in a manner that points in the direction of a huge win for Russian diplomacy in the Middle East, and we only need to connect the dots to see this scenario unfolding.
What dots, one might ask?
Henry Kissinger made it law for America to protect Israel. In his shuttle diplomacy trips in the lead up to the Camp David agreement, Kissinger has basically removed the USSR from the position of a superpower and a key partner on the negotiating table between Arabs and the Israelis and reduced its role to zilch. The ensuing dismantling of the USSR and the emergence of the so-called “New World Order” meant that Israel was to maintain its military superiority.
However, with the rise of Axis of Resistance in general and Hezbollah in particular, Israel’s technical military edge proved unable to provide Israel with any real security. As a matter of fact, it seems to have done just the opposite. Israel has never ever been under the kind of existential threat that it faces now, with an estimated hundred thousand Hezbollah missiles, if not more, poised to hit Israeli targets as far as Eilat.
And because America had been such a biased supporter of Israel for so long, it has lost its stature as a non-partisan arbitrator and mediator. In reality therefore, whilst America tried as hard as possible to enable Israel to impose its own peace, under its own terms, in practice, it has not been able to provide Israel with any peace under anyone’s terms.
Off to Syria.
Syria has been deadlocked in a war for more than five years. The Russian intervention that commenced in late September 2015 took the conflict, for the first time, into a direction in which the Syrian Government and its allies gained the clear upper hand.
Then, and in the height of the military operation, and seemingly just a tad before achieving and declaring victory, Russia suddenly declared a major pullout and eventually a ceasefire. Many questions were raised, and even the staunch and extremely savvy ally of Russia, Hezbollah chief Nasrallah himself has questioned publicly in a recent speech the rationale behind the Russian stand and asked: ”Who has benefited from the ceasefire?” Nasrallah was obviously referring to the fact that Al-Nusra Front and other groups have taken advantage of the ceasefire to bolster their positions and even to gain some territory in some regions.
In as much as the Russian intervention in its speed, accuracy and effectiveness has stunned the world, especially NATO, so did the pullback and ceasefire. Why did President Putin suddenly decide to scale down the military offensive, was a question that many analysts asked and tried to make speculations about.
Short-sighted analysts, especially those who love to hate Russia, found in this a golden opportunity to lash at Russia and accuse President Putin of backing off and letting Syria down. But would Putin truly back down after he had put his global political reputation on the line? Was he really expecting the Americans to come clean and work with him on identifying who is who on the ground? Would he back off after Russian lives were lost both in Syria and in the tragic jetliner crash in Sinai, and which was done in retaliation to Russia’s military action in Syria? Would Putin risk being seen in a negative way by his own people after he had risen to the level of a rescuer and hero? Last but not least, would Putin leave Turkey, and Erdogan specifically, “unpunished” after Turkey deliberately downed a Russian plane and killed its pilot?
The collective and individual answer to all of the above questions is a categorical NO. So why did Putin do it then? There seemed to be no clear answer; at least not for a while.
And of course, we cannot mention Turkey without allowing the train of events to stop at the Turkish station for a very thorough analysis.
In my analysis of the failure of “War On Syria”, which effectively began to take shape over the last two years or so, and especially after the emergence of Daesh, I had been reiterating that different elements of the “Anti-Syrian Cocktail” who were bundled together, united only by their hatred for Syria and her President, have realized that they were unable to have their collective dream materialized. They thus resorted to pursuing their own individual dreams and/or to implement some contingency plans. In that context, among other things, Daesh declared mutiny on its former allies and captured oil fields in order to be able to self-finance.
When Erdogan looked at Daesh, he could see a double-edged sword. And irrespective of politics, Erdogan’s fundamentalist ideology is not very different from that of Daesh, and according to this doctrine, putting everything else aside, Daesh members are regarded as brethren. Furthermore, the fact that Daesh and the Kurds were in conflict was something that Erdogan could not ignore. Erdogan’s fear of the Kurdish factor is very high, and the fact that America was helping some Kurdish factions has angered Erdogan to an extreme. America cannot be a friend of Turkey and the Kurds at the same time, Erdogan has said on many occasions, both directly and indirectly.
At the same time, America was growing very frustrated with Erdogan, and in turn, played its own cat and mouse game within the Daesh-Kurdish-Turkish triangle; favouring any side at a time that was convenient and suitable for its agenda.
But for Erdogan, the issue was becoming very critical. Turkey is now under attack with a string of explosions going off here and there; some purportedly perpetrated by Kurds and others by Daesh. Not only has Erdogan’s gamble in Syria failed, but he has brought the conflict home; at least partially, and the economic boom and the “zero problems” policy that crowned his early years of power were all getting eroded by the quagmire that Erdogan found himself in.
To make it worse for Erdogan, after he downed Russia’s Su-24 in November 2015, he was expecting NATO’s support, but NATO’s response was clear and brief. He was told that he needed to sort out his own problems with Russia.
He tried to use the refugees as a trump card, but this could not go far enough. Apart from the few billion dollars he was given by the EU, which is in relative terms a petty bribe, Erdogan was unable to even clinch Turkey’s longtime aspiration of becoming an EU member.
Erdogan found himself cornered, abandoned, under attack, facing severe Russian sanctions and an economic slump. He needed an exit strategy; an exit from trouble and into a totally new era.
In the meantime, Israeli PM Netanyahu made an unprecedented number of trips to Moscow. Why? Many asked.
The dust has not even began to settle yet, but there are markers that indicate that we are about to see a huge shift in Middle Eastern politics, conflicts and alliances.
We are now hearing formal Turkish statements accusing the USA of plotting the recent failed coup attempt. Turkey has even imposed a lockdown on Incirlik airbase, a NATO airbase, in which America stock piles nuclear weapons, and has even cut off power supplies to the base. This is tantamount to declaring mutiny on NATO. When Erdogan said that the coup was a “gift from God” to cleanse the army, he might as well have also said that it was a gift from God for him to show his resentment to the USA.
We also hear of counter-rumours that Erdogan has staged the failed coup in order to cleanse the military from elements that are not loyal to him. Whilst this scenario cannot either be confirmed or discounted, Erdogan is not mincing either his words or his actions with his NATO boss the USA.
It is important to note here that in the last few weeks, Erdogan and Netanyahu made up, and furthermore, the Turkish-Russian relationship was normalized. Erdogan has been seen to be making a turn, and perhaps a U-turn in regard to his policies in Syria, but for what ends?
For anyone to make a decisive win in Syria, the city of Aleppo holds the key. Whoever takes full control of Aleppo will win the war. The Syrian-Russian coalition has the upper hand to win the battle of Aleppo, but at what civilian cost? The other way to win it is to bring Erdogan down to his knees; and this seems to be what has happened. If Erdogan seals Turkey’s borders, the terrorists will be doomed.
If we were to connect the above main dots, ignoring many other minor dots which do not need to be discussed individually, we can only see a Middle Eastern Russian-brokered masterplan coming to fruition.
What puts Russia in the position to be able to muster such a plan is the fact that Russia is highly respected and is on fairly good terms with all major players. After mending relationships with Turkey, Russia is now on very good terms not only with Turkey, but also with Syria, Israel and Iran. The foolhardy foreign American policies in the Middle East have turned America into a force that cannot be trusted even by its own allies.
Putin is adamant on fighting terrorism. Whether he is able to do this or not is another story, but strategically speaking, he knows well that the military fight against terrorism cannot be won, let alone properly conducted, if other players in the region are in a state of conflict.
According to this analysis, we are on the verge of seeing a Russian plan unfolding, a plan that will not only form a foundation for ending the “War On Syria”, but also one that will seek an Arab/Israeli settlement.
The plan will have to be based on a win-win situation for all parties involved. The Saudis (and Qataris) will be the only losers. They will probably be left out in the cold and hung to dry. No one really wants to or needs to appease them any longer. Their clout is shrinking, and so are their resources. If anything, the war on terror, if it takes form under a Russian umbrella, may need to confront Al-Saud’s sponsorship to the spread of religious radicalism.
The avalanche of events has started, and as the USA is being shown the exit door by its closest allies, Russia is coming in as the only power that has the ability of resolving long standing niggling issues and cleaning up America’s mess.