by Ghassan and Intibah Kadi
In a previous article titled “A Muslim Spring” published on the Saker, on the 12th of June 2017, the analysis of the then recent Qatar standoff took us into the direction of whether new Middle Eastern alliances were taking form and old ones dismantling.
Developments since then reveal that the distinctive parts of the new embryos are already differentiating and emerging. The initial article foresaw the formation of two new alliances in this manner:
1. Team One: America/NATO, Israel, Saudi Arabia, UAE and perhaps Egypt.
2. Team Two: Russia, Syria, Iran, Hezbollah, Turkey, Qatar and perhaps Egypt.
If the roles are played properly, “Team Two” is potentially a dream team, but realistically, it carries a latent danger; the unpredictability of Erdogan and the fact that he cannot be trusted.
The divisions are deepening and the polarizations are becoming more plausible by the day as team members grow closer. What the initial article was unable to analyse adequately at its early mark in time, was the stand of Saudi Arabia and the USA from one end, and that of Turkey from the other. It wasn’t till recently that it became clear that the USA is not trying to find a way to include Turkey, or at best appease it, but in fact is targeting Turkey and pushing it into a corner, with a bit of help from the hapless Saudi allies.
The USA has realized it can no longer achieve its ambitions in the region by working with Turkey and has now made the relationship with Saudi Arabia its key pivot to salvage what’s left of any hope to score a win in the region. If a win cannot be achieved, at least the mischievous duo will try to prevent Syria and Russia from clinching their win.
After the many warnings that Erdogan has given the USA, that the USA has to choose between being an ally of Turkey or an ally of the Kurds, the difference in aspirations and interests was insurmountable, and the USA seems to have made up its mind, albeit covertly, and decided to dump Turkey seeking its own agenda in Syria; which is totally incompatible with that of Turkey. Erdogan knows this, and he is not going to take this sitting down.
The unprovoked and unwarranted Saudi and GCC sanctions against Qatar, which came almost immediately after the historic and infamous Saudi-Trump visit, was the final pilot light that the USA and Al-Saud lit up in order to test how the new alliance is panning out. But the aim of that move was not only to punish Qatar for its own stand on its relationships with Iran and the Muslim Brotherhood, but to also put Erdogan on the spot, given that Turkey has a small military base in Qatar; and hence would see any intervention in Qatar as tantamount to meddling with Turkey.
Turkey on its part, was more than happy to be virtually offered a new export market on a silver platter, in which (together with Iran) all of Qatar’s needs were met, mainly food, which Qatar produces none of. But in capitalizing on the export opportunity, Erdogan has given the Saudis and Americans a message not to mess with him, and that he knows what they are doing.
This whole scenario has the hallmarks of America’s last ditched attempt to take victory away from Syria; however, in doing so, the Americans are in fact giving Erdogan an excuse to act solely on Turkish interests, even if this means military confrontation with pro-American forces on the ground; ie the Kurdish PYG, and perhaps even US troops down the track.
What cannot be overemphasized, no matter how much this statement is repeated almost in every article over the last year or so, Erdogan will never allow an independent Kurdish state to be created south of his border. Even if the events in Syria had taken a different turn a few years back and had Syria lost to the terrorists, and even if the Russian and Iranian help did not come and Syria had capitulated and was shredded to pieces, Erdogan still wouldn’t have allowed for an independent Kurdish state to be created south of his border. As it has been reiterated in several articles on many occasions two years ago or so when Erdogan had the upper hand in northern Syria, his whole objective of wanting to create an 80 km wide buffer zone, was in fact to dislocate the Kurds and replace them with Syrian refugees who were already in Turkey and loyal to him. With that plot foiled, he has no other current choice but to work with Syria and Russia on his common objectives with them, or act solely and have a much bigger and more insidious plan.
The one thing that must be kept in mind is that Turkey has a formidable army; a mighty force to be reckoned with. As a NATO member, Turkey has the second largest ground force after the USA, and if Sultan Erdogan moves his troops south in a big way, depending on how the “Dream Team” alliance is drawn, if there is such team at all, and how the strategies and tactics are established and who can guarantee(s) them, there is no telling as to how far he will go.
Being stubborn and self-conceited on one hand, and highly ambitious on the other, Erdogan is not one to be trusted, neither by Russia nor by Syria. He may even feel too humiliated to join efforts with Syria after his long history of hostility towards her President and people, and decide to go back to his original dream of 2011 and move into Syria himself against the Kurds, and even perhaps against Syria and President Assad, and this time, without the “help” of the Saudis and Americans and their crony terrorists. After all, those former allies proved to be more of a liability to Erdogan than an asset, and this time around, he would be after Al-Saud, using Syria as a corridor.
Yes, it is not at all unfathomable and unimaginable that the USA and Saudi Arabia are unwittingly pushing Erdogan to go as far south as Mecca and beyond. After all, has it not been his ambition to restore the Ottoman Empire? If anything, Erdogan would be praying that someone offers him a justification to put Mecca under Turkey’s control once again. His dismay with the Saudis may be utilized by him to generate a wave of discontent within the Muslim World against the custodians of the holiest of all Muslim shrines, focusing on how they have allowed the holy land to be subdued by American “infidels”, and hence use this as a pretext to launch a major offensive.
The irony here is that America will not be able to come to the help of Al-Saud without risking a huge wave of protest in the Muslim World. If Al-Saud find themselves having to ask America to protect Mecca from a Turkish invasion, they would be signing their own death warrant, because non-Muslims are not allowed in the area.
Erdogan may alternatively not go all the way to Mecca and resurrect his previous plan to create the 80 km buffer zone. Either way, if Turkey moves a huge number of troops into Syria in an all-out onslaught, the Syrian Army will not be able to resist it for long, and Russia will be forced to either escalate her presence, risking a confrontation with Turkey, or seek another alternative which is not foreseeable at this stage.
As for Israel, it is on good terms with Turkey, and in the event of a massive Turkish invasion east of its border, it will sit back and watch, and if anything sigh with relief to see Turkey “cleaning up a mess” that no one else could in this magnitude.
Iran will find itself in a difficult dilemma. On one hand, it will be happy to see Al-Saud getting hammered by Turkey, but its relationship with Syria will stipulate that it will have to decide to either confront Turkish troops, or find some other resolution.
Will a compromise resolution mean allowing Turkish troops a corridor in eastern Syria, an interim corridor that reaches south deep into Saudi territory without having to encroach on Syria’s sovereignty in Damascus? At the moment, this scenario seems unlikely, but it cannot be zeroed out.
Egypt will probably sit back and watch, and at the end, join hands with the winner of it all. President Sisi will most likely stay disengaged; despite his current pro-Saudi stance, which is mainly in response to his discontent with Qatar harbouring Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders.
This is why it must be said again, that much of what happens in Syria and to Syria, largely depends on Russia. At all possible cost therefore, the Kurdish situation must be contained, if it is not too late already, in order not to give Erdogan the excuse to act unilaterally. The first line of defence in averting this situation in the first place was to work with the Kurds to keep them away from striking deals with America and Israel. This could have been achieved by doing all that was possible to keep them under the roof of Damascus and thereby pulling the rug from underneath America’s and Israel’s feet. With rightful diligence, it is not too late to reverse this status quo, even though on the surface it looks like a fait accompli, but in reality, it shouldn’t be. But if time proves that this train had already been missed, Erdogan’s train must not be allowed to take off on its own.
For the “Dream Team” alliance to work and work effectively, the reins of the initiative must be jointly held by all the regional powers; namely Syria, Iran and Turkey; under Russian auspices and guarantee. This is the only way for the inter-secular Sunni/Shiite Muslim Spring to spring into success.