Authored by Alastair Crooke by way of The Strategic Tradition Basis:
The Center East is metamorphosing. New fault-lines are rising, but Trump’s overseas coverage ‘hawks’ nonetheless attempt to stage ‘old movies’ in a new ‘theatre’.
The ‘old movie’ is for the US to ‘stand up’ Sunni, Arab states, and lead them in the direction of confronting ‘bad actor’ Iran. ‘Team Bolton’ is reverting again to the previous 1996 Clear Break script – as if nothing has modified. State Division officers have been briefing that Secretary Pompeo’s handle in Cairo on Thursday was “ slated to tell his audience (although he may not name the former president), that Obama misled the people of the Middle East about the true source of terrorism, including what contributed to the rise of the Islamic State. Pompeo will insist that Iran, a country Obama tried to engage, is the real terrorist culprit. The speech’s drafts also have Pompeo suggesting that Iran could learn from the Saudis about human rights, and the rule of law.”
Properly, a minimum of that speech ought to increase a chuckle across the area. In apply nevertheless, the regional fault-line has moved on: It’s not a lot Iran. GCC States have a new agenda, and at the moment are much more involved to include Turkey, and to place a halt to Turkish affect spreading all through the Levant. GCC states worry that President Erdogan, given the emotional and psychological wave of antipathy unleashed by the Khashoggi homicide, could also be mobilising newly re-energised Muslim Brotherhood, Gulf networks. The goal being to leverage current Gulf financial woes, and the overall hollowing out of any broader GCC ‘vision’, to be able to undercut the inflexible Gulf ‘Arab system’ (tribal monarchy). The Brotherhood favours a tender Islamist reform of the Gulf monarchies – alongside strains, similar to that when advocated by Jamal Khashoggi .
Turkey’s management in any case is satisfied that it was the UAE (MbZ particularly) that was the writer behind the Kurdish buffer being constructed, and mini-state ‘plot’ towards Turkey – at the side of Israel and the US. Understandably, Gulf states now worry potential Turkish retribution for his or her weaponising of Kurdish aspirations on this approach.
And Turkey is seen (by GCC States) as already working in shut co-ordination with fellow Muslim Brotherhood patron and GCC member, Qatar, to divide the collapsing Council. This prefigures a new spherical to the MB versus Saudi Wahhabism spat for the soul of Sunni Islam.
GGC states subsequently, are hoping to stand-up a ‘front’ to stability Turkey within the Levant. And to this finish, they’re making an attempt to recruit President Assad again into the Arab fold (which is to say, into the Arab League), and to have him act, collectively with them, as an Arab counter to Turkey.
The level right here is clear: President Assad is intently allied to Iran – and so is Moscow and Turkey. To be fashionably Iranophobic – as Pompeo may want the GCC to be – merely would spoil the GCC’s anti-Turkey ‘play’. Syria certainly could also be (justly) skeptical of Turkey’s actions and intent in Syria, however from President Assad’s perspective, Iran and Russia are completely essential to the managing of an erratic Turkey. Turkey does characterize an existential Syrian concern. And making an attempt to lever President Assad – or Lebanon or Turkey – away from Iran, can be absurd. It gained’t occur. And the GCC states have sufficient nous to know this now (after their stinging defeat in Syria). The Gulf anti-Iranian stance has had ‘the burner’ turned sharply down, (besides when their want is to stroke US feathers).
They will see clearly that the Grasp of Ceremonies within the Levant – placing collectively the brand new regional ‘order’ – just isn’t Mr Bolton, however Moscow, with Tehran (and infrequently Ankara), enjoying their equal half ‘from behind the curtain’.
Presumably, America’s intelligence providers know, (and Gulf states definitely are conscious), that in any case, Iranian forces are virtually all gone from Syria (although in fact Syria’s ‘Iranian connection’ stays as agency, as ever) – whilst Pompeo and Israel say the exactly the other: that they’re pushing-back arduous on the ‘threatening’ Iranian army ‘footprint’ in Syria. Few within the area will consider it.
The second notable rising regional fault line then, evidently is the one that’s opening between Turkey and the US and Israel. Turkey ‘gets it’: Erdogan ‘gets it’ very clearly: that Washington now deeply distrusts him, suspects that Turkey is accelerating into Moscow and Beijing’s orbit, and that DC can be completely happy to see him gone – and a extra NATO-friendly chief put in in his stead.
And it have to be clear to Washington too ‘why’ Turkey can be heading ‘East’. Erdogan exactly wants Russia and Iran to behave as MCs to average his troublesome relations with Damascus for the longer term. Erdogan wants Russia and Iran much more, to dealer a appropriate political answer to the Kurds in Syria. He wants China too, to help his financial system.
And Erdogan is absolutely conscious that Israel (greater than Gulf States) nonetheless hankers after the previous Ben Gurion splendid of an ethnic Kurdish state – allied with Israel, and sitting atop main oil assets – to be inserted on the very pivot to south-west and central Asia: And at Turkey’s weak underbelly.
The Israeli’s articulated their help for a Kurdish state fairly plainly on the time of Barzani’s failed independence initiative in Iraq. However Erdogan merely, unmistakably, has stated to this ‘never’ (to Bolton, this week). Nonetheless, Ankara nonetheless wants Russian and Iranian collaboration to permit Bolton to ‘climb down his tree’ of a Kurdish mini-state in Syria. He wants Russia to dealer a Syrian-led buffer, vice an American-Kurdish tourniquet, strapped round his southern border.
It’s unlikely nevertheless, that regardless of the actual menace that America’s arming of the Kurds poses to Turkey, that Erdogan actually needs to invade Syria – although he threatens it – and although John Bolton’s ‘conditions’ might finish by leaving Turkey no choice, however to do it. Since, for positive, Erdogan understands that a messy Turkish invasion of Syria would ship the delicately balanced Turkish Lire into free-fall.
Nonetheless … Turkey, Syria, Iran and Russia now all need America gone from Syria. And for a second, it appeared it’d proceed easily after Trump had acquiesced to Erdogan’s arguments, throughout their celebrated phone name. However then – Senator Lindsay Graham demurred (towards the backdrop of massed howls of anguish issuing from the Beltway overseas coverage think-tanks). Bolton did the walk-back, by making US withdrawal from Syria contingent on circumstances (ones seemingly designed to not be met) and never tied any particular timeline. President Erdogan was not amused.
It must be apparent now that we’re getting into a main regional re-set: The US is leaving Syria. Bolton’s tried withdrawal-reversal has been rebuffed. And the US, in any occasion, forfeited the arrogance of the Kurds in consequence to the unique Trump assertion. The Kurds now are oriented towards Damascus and Russia is mediating a settlement.
It might take a whereas, however the US goes. Kurdish forces (aside from these linked with the PKK) are more likely to be assimilated into the Syrian military, and the ‘buffer’ won’t be directed towards Turkey, however might be a mixture of Syrian military and Kurdish parts – underneath Syrian command – however whose general conduct in the direction of Turkey can be invigilated by Russia. And the Syrian military will, in due time, clear Idlib from a resurgent al-Qaida (HTS).
The Arab states are returning to their embassies in Damascus – partly out of worry that the whipsaw of American coverage, its radical polarisation, and its proclivity to be wholly or partially ‘walked-back’ by the Deep State – may depart the Gulf unexpectedly ‘orphaned’ at any time. In impact, the GCC states are ‘hedging’ towards this danger by making an attempt to reconnect a bifurcated Arab sphere, and to provide it a new ‘purpose’ and credibility – as a stability towards Turkey, Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood (Syria’s previous nemesis).
And but – there stays nonetheless one other layer to this calculus, as described by veteran Center East journalist, Elijah Magnier:
“Certainly the Levant is returning to the centre of Center East and world consideration in a stronger place than in 2011. Syria has superior precision missiles that may hit any constructing in Israel. Assad additionally has an air defence system he would have by no means dreamed of earlier than 2011 – because of Israel’s steady violation of its airspace, and its defiance of Russian authority. Hezbollah has constructed bases for its lengthy and medium vary precision missiles within the mountains and has created a bond with Syria that it might by no means have established – if not for the warfare. Iran has established a strategic brotherhood with Syria, because of its position in defeating the regime change plan.
NATO’s help for the expansion of ISIS has created a bond between Syria and Iraq that no Muslim or Baathist hyperlink might ever have created: Iraq has a “carte blanche” to bomb ISIS places in Syria with out the consent of the Syrian management, and the Iraqi safety forces can stroll into Syria anytime they see match to battle ISIS. The anti-Israel axis has by no means been stronger than it’s at this time. That’s the results of 2011-2018 conflict imposed on Syria”.
Sure. This is the third of the newly emergent fault-lines: that of Israel on the one hand, and the rising actuality within the Syrian north, on the opposite – a shadow that has returned to hang-out the unique instigators of the ‘war’ to undermine Syria. PM Netanyahu since has put all of the Israeli eggs into the Trump household ‘basket’. It was Netanyahu’s relationship with Trump which was introduced in Israel as being the true ‘Deal of the Century’ (and never the Palestinian one). But when Bibi complained forcefully about US withdrawal from Syria (leaving Syria weak, Netanyahu asserts, to an Iranian insertion of sensible missiles), Trump nonchalantly replied that the US provides Israel $ four.5 billion per yr – “You’ll be all right”, Trump riposted.
It was seen in Israel as a unprecedented slap to the PM’s face. However Israelis can’t keep away from, however to acknowledge, some duty for creating exactly the circumstances of which they now loudly complain.
Backside line: Issues haven’t gone in accordance with plan: America isn’t shaping the brand new Levantine ‘order’ – Moscow is. And Israel’s continuous, blatant disregard of Russia’s personal pursuits within the Levant, firstly infuriated, and eventually has provoked the Russian excessive command into declaring the northern Center East a putative no-fly zone for Israel. This represents a main strategic reversal for Netanyahu (and the US).
And eventually, it’s this repeating sample of statements being made by the US President on overseas coverage which might be then virtually casually contradicted, or ‘conditioned’, by some or different a part of the US paperwork, that poses to the area (and past) the sixty-four-thousand-dollar query. The sample clearly is one among an remoted President, with officers emptying his statements of government authority (till subsequently endorsed, or denied, by the US paperwork). It’s making Trump virtually irrelevant (when it comes to the setting of overseas coverage).
Is that this then a stealth course of – knowingly contrived – incrementally to take away Trump from energy? A hollowing out of his Presidential prerogatives (leaving him solely as a disruptive Twitterer) – achieved, with out all of the disruption and mess, of formally eradicating him from workplace? We will see.
And what subsequent? Nicely, as Simon Henderson observes, nobody is certain – everyone seems to be left questioning:
“What’s up with Secretary Pompeo’s extended tour of the Middle East? The short answer is that he is trying to sell/explain President Trump’s “we are leaving Syria” coverage to America’s buddies … Amman, Jordan; Cairo, Egypt; Manama, Bahrain; Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates (UAE); Doha, Qatar; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; Muscat, Oman; Kuwait Metropolis, Kuwait. Wow, even together with his personal jet and no immigration hassles, that’s an exhausting itinerary … The proven fact that there now are eight stops in eight days, in all probability displays the quantity of explaining that must be achieved.”