Has Washington Given its Blessing to Moscow's Middle East Ambitions?
12 December 2015
By Eyad Abu Shakra
Barely a day goes by without a significant development that gives an idea
about what might befall the Middle East during Barack Obama's remaining days
in the White House.
A few weeks ago press reports suggested that Washington's strategy in the
region includes its control of Iraq, while leaving Syria to Moscow's. In
fact, if realistic analysts have huge reservations regarding how much
influence Washington still enjoys in Iraq, where US-enabled Iran has created
new facts on the ground, it seems that Obama's handing over what remains of
Syria to Russia is now a reality.
What takes place in Syria, as well as Lebanon, is supposed to affect Israel's
interests as a major regional player, although ostensibly no one is willing
to talk about it. Still, it is more than likely that Israel would have a say
in any political deal in Syria and Lebanon. This means that, against the
background of Arab disunity, we are facing a 'scenario' that includes two
heavyweight global players- Russia on one side, and the USA and its Western
allies on the other. Then there are the three influential regional players;
Iran, Israel and Turkey.
The US – Iran Nuclear Agreement (JCPOA) which has all but collapsed leaving
only its political consequences, was the first regional event with strategic
importance since the invasion of Iraq, and the handing it over to Iran's
henchmen. Faced with Arab reservations and expressed unease, Washington
sought to reassure its Arab 'friends' by repeating its boring monologue – one
that some wanted to believe but that many wouldn't – that America 'remains
committed to the security of its regional friends, namely Israel and the GCC
Noteworthy, of course, was how Washington underlined the security of Israel
and the GCC states while saying nothing about the other Mashreq states, i.e.
Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan.
Indeed, the priorities of the US – Iran Nuclear Agreement have been thought
to influence Washington's negative stance towards the Syrian Uprising,
reflected in empty verbal denouncements, active military aid to Kurdish
secessionists in northern Syria, and stubborn refusal of any practical
backing to the Uprising such as providing suitable advanced weapons and
creating 'safe havens' and 'no fly zones'.
The Russian leadership, on its part, has been doing just the opposite. It has
been providing support to Iran's military intervention; and then under the
pretext of fighting 'extremist groups' has now become an active combatant on
the ground that intentionally ignores ISIS in order to concentrate on saving
Bashar Al-Assad's regime, killing off the Syrian Uprising, dividing and
undermining the opposition, and carrying out operations of ethnic and
sectarian cleansing targeting the Turkmen and Sunni Arabs.
Moscow is currently escalating its war aiming to geographically and
logistically separate Turkey from Syria, while Washington is supporting
secessionist Kurds, some of which are linked to Assad's regime, as well as
the newly formed Syrian Democratic Forces, now exclusively fighting ISIS
alongside the Kurds without firing a shot in anger against the Assad forces!
Thus, the 'Turkish Area' Washington is trying to create in northeastern Syria
from Ain Diwar (East) to Jarablus (West) complements Moscow's efforts to
sabotage and ruin Turkey's attempts to create a 'safe haven' extending from
Jarablus (East) to the west of A'zaz inhabited by a Turkmen and Arab
majority. It is a well-known fact that Turkey needs such a 'safe haven' for
two reasons. Firstly in order to relieve the crisis of refugees across its
borders, and secondly, to prevent the creation of a Kurdish 'mini-state'
along the Turko-Syrian borders that includes the mainly Syrian Kurdish pocket
of 'Afrin in the west bordering the Turkish Hatay Province.
Furthermore, Moscow is working openly and assiduously to uproot and expel the
Turkmen population from northern Syria, claiming they have been an
'incubator' of Turkish influence, while accusing Ankara of actively aiding
ISIS and covering up its crimes. In fact, as the Assad regime has done its
share of uprooting and expelling the Syrian Turkmen from Greater Damascus and
the Provinces of Homs and Aleppo, Russia is now doing the same in the
Province of Lattakia.
This Russian escalation has exploited three consecutive events:
1- The Russian airliner tragedy over Sinai.
2- The Paris attacks.
3- Turkey's downing of a Russian fighter-bomber after entering its airspace
over the Hatay Province.
The picture is now clear, is it not? Under the pretext of fighting ISIS,
which in reality does not seem to be a priority for anyone for the time being
at least, Moscow is fighting its own war to extend its own influence, support
its 'tactical' ally Iran, destroy the influence of Turkey, and subsequently,
'Sunni Political Islam' throughout the Region.
In return, Washington is providing Moscow's plans and actions with every
possible help. It is stipulating that the Syrian opposition fighters it is
training and arming should not fight the Assad forces, only ISIS. It has left
the civilian populations of Greater Damascus, Aleppo and Homs unprotected by
continuously rejecting calls for 'safe havens' and 'no fly zones', while
rushing to aid the Kurdish militias in Ain Al-Arab (Kobani) and the Al-Hasakah
Province, and is now ignoring Russia's military intervention and letting down
its old NATO ally, Turkey, as the latter is confronting Moscow's bullying and
threats against its people and interests.
The fact is that what looks like an American 'no stance' isn't a 'no stance'
or 'miscalculation' anymore. It is actually a well-thought out strategy and
those behind it know only too well where it is heading. However, they do not
care much about the exorbitant price the Middle East is going to pay for in
terms of human suffering. The region may soon become a fertile soil for a new
generation of even more extremist, angry and alienated generation of
The history of the Middle East was associated with Turkey for more than 400
years (from 1516 to 1918) since the battle of Marj Dabiq (near Aleppo) that
opened the region to the Ottoman Empire. This association did not necessarily
end after the Ottoman defeat in WW1 in 1918.
Today, almost one century later, the leaders of Russia and Iran are
attempting to sever the last links by geographically separating Arabs from
Turks by a 'Kurdish belt' and a 'Shi'ite belt', and this is with American
How will the Middle East look after November 2016? Well, one only hopes
President Obama causes no more damage.