After the south, Fua and Kfarya next: The talented Erdogan is the new Sultan of Turkey, dominating the Middle East chessboard (2/3)

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By Elijah J. Magnier – @ejmalrai

In spite of Turkey’s many astute manoeuvres, it is too early to say that it is coming out of the Syrian war totally victorious (see part 1). By the end of the ongoing battle in the South of Syria, the war would be almost over- with the exception of the North, where there are now two forces of occupation: the US and Turkey. The Syrian army is determined to put an end to all isolated pockets under the control of jihadists and other militants, particularly those unwilling to accept the “new” reality: despite seven years of war, the “regime change” policy has failed, and no force can unbalance the authority of the central government in Damascus. However, the two countries occupying the North of Syria have no intention of leaving anytime soon.

The first group, the Americans– and without any benefit to the US national interest – is in control of- and blocking-  the main commercial crossing between Syria and Iraq at al-Tanf, unwilling to allow both states to benefit from commerce and exchange of goods that can generate hundreds of millions of dollars yearly for each country. Both Iraq and Syria are coming out of a long destructive war against terrorism and are in need of generating income through re-establishing trade and commerce.

Moreover, the US ended the battle of Raqqah in October 2017. Since that date, the US forces have been refraining from eliminating ISIS east of the Euphrates, so the terrorist group can continue attacking a secondary road (but the only one available) at albu Kamal – al Qaem, between Syria and Iraq.

The US is also in control of al-Hasaka province and part of Deir-ezzour, rich in oil and gas- and using the Kurds as a human shield to protect its forces. The US is considered by Damascus to be the most dangerous occupying force because it has the potential military and financial capabilities to destabilise not only Syria, but also Iraq, Lebanon and Iran. Since the arrival of the Russian forces in Syria – following a request by the Syrian government in September 2015 – Washington is very concerned about maintaining its world hegemony and its dominance over the Middle East.

The second occupying force, Turkey, appears less dangerous than the US forces but it too has no expressed intention to leave Syria soon. The Turkish presence in the north served Syria’s purpose when the Syrian army was busy fighting in other parts of the country. Russia, Iran and Syria agreed to divide Syria into areas of priority. Turkey took on a heavy load, by its own initiative, to stand against the creation of a Kurdish state, ruled by the US, along the Turkish-Syrian borders.

President Erdogan has managed to stop the US from creating a Kurdish state (Rojava) spreading from the north east (al-Hasaka) to the north west (Afrin). Turkey created a breach in the US plan to occupy the entire northern area when it pushed its forces into Jarablus, ousted Kurdish forces from Afrin, and later twisted the US’s arm so as to separate its Kurdish proxies from Manbij.

Furthermore, the forces of Ankara established static observation points – agreed in Astana between Russia, Iran and Turkey – from Tal al-Iss to Idlib and its surroundings, as a demarcation line between the Syrian Army and jihadists throughout the North.

Following a specific Russian demand in Astana, Kazakhstan, Turkey took upon itself the elimination of all extremists in the area under its direct influence, including al-Qaeda that is still based in the northern city of Idlib.

After recovering its control over the South of Syria on the borders with Israel (the occupied Golan Heights) and Jordan (the Naseeb crossing), the central government in Damascus will push its army towards the occupied north. Although the Americans are considered the real threat in the Levant, nevertheless the Syrian government obviously doesn’t have the possibility of confronting the US face to face, nor is Russia is willing or ready to engage in a wider world war.

Syria is expected to apply diplomatic pressure to the US at the UN, followed by a support for local resistance against the occupation forces. The US will be cornered if its forces remain in the particular territory it occupies with no strategic purpose save a tactical support for the Israeli Air Force that has used on many occasions its military facility as a base to bomb the Syrian Army and its allies.

The Syrian Army is therefore expected to concentrate on the presence of jihadists around Idlib. To start with, there are the besieged cities of Kfarya and Fu’a, sporadically attacked by jihadists surrounding it for a long time. Their liberation of these cities has been postponed following a Russian request to give Turkey the possibility to extend its control over all jihadists. The difference between Russia and Syria over the Turkish issue exists: Russia doesn’t want to engage itself against the Turkish forces but will support the Syrian government if it is ever attacked by jihadists.

President Erdogan’s priority in his new term will be to look after the domestic economy. Engaging its forces in a war against the Syrian forces on Syrian territory won’t have a positive effect on Turkish national affairs. It is one thing for the Turkish population and parties to agree to prevent a Kurdish state on Turkish borders (important for Ankara’s national security), but it is quite another to engage in a large scale war against the Syrian government whose forces aim to recover their own territory, and are determined to do so.

President Erdogan will have to negotiate with President Assad. However, this step is not so simple: thousands of jihadists are still held in check by a small number of Turkish forces in Idlib. How are these going to react? Will Erdogan “adopt” them in Turkey? The new Sultan in Ankara still needs carefully to consider his future next steps in Syria.

Proof read by: Maurice Brasher

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