From the trenches of Ayn al-Arab to the walls of the Saudi consulate in Istanbul … Erdoğan sighs with relief


Al-Quds Al-Arabi Nov. 13, 2018, issue 9365, p. 21

At the time that the Turkish armoured vehicles and rockets sound at the border of the city of Ayn al-Arab (Kobane), the Turkish government is rushing to the next steps. The initial stability of the exchange rate of the Turkish lira allowed the Turkish administration to determine its direction. Ankara is currently taking advantage of international and regional complexity and current international balances to promote its interests. However, the present relief on a large number of issues related to the Turkish scene does not relieve her of the danger. Here we have to stop in the international balances and their impact in order to understand the future of Ankara’s influence in general.

The American-Turkish scene

After the economic and political crisis that lasted for weeks, the release of Pastor Branson a few days ago came the right time for Turkey. Washington promised to be more lenient on the issue of the city of Manbij in northern Syria, while Erdoğan sees the US-Turkish deal as unsatisfactory. He later said that in the coming days there would be Turkish movements against the presence of Kurdish militias on the east of the Euphrates river from Ayn al-Arab to Tell Abyad. These high tones have their cause and there are some papers that support them.

In my personal view, the murder of fellow Arab journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the consulate of Saudi Arabia by senior leaders of the Kingdom has a direct impact. Everyone knows that the Saudi crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman has entered a serious predicament because of this. Trump personally sees bin Salman’s survival within the Saudi leadership needed to further deplete resources from Saudi Arabia. Information from Ankara confirms that it has strong evidence of Mohammad bin Salman’s involvement in the Khashoggi murder. In this reality, Erdoğan, having an agreement on Branson on one side and US and Saudi Arabia’s need of Ankara on the other hand, found the best way to impose his demands on the Kurdish militia’s file on northern part of Syria. Sources have assured me that the Turkish leadership has given clear instructions to the Euphrates Shield factions to prepare for the launching of military action, mainly in the cities of Manbij, Ayn al-Arab and Tell Abyad. The same sources assure the transfer by Ankara of five thousand soldiers over the last few days along the border line from Tell Abyad to the Euphrates river.

We see here that what is happening in the vicinity of Ayn al-Arab is just the rise of the Turkish negotiations ceiling and nothing more, in order to force Washington to offer more concessions in the file of the city of Manbij while vigorous US-Turkish talks are being conducted to complete the deal and get the last touches.

The Russian-Turkish scene

The Russian-Turkish relations have evolved over the last two years quickly and impressively, as the Syrian crisis has shaped an ideal link for their development. Russia is the largest supporter of the Assad regime in Syria, and considers that Ankara’s enormous influence on the Syrian political and military opposition is important to contain. Ankara saw Moscow’s weight in Syria as an appropriate alternative to Washington and its support for Kurdish militias, which it regards as a direct threat to its national security. Thus, the common interests between the two sides produced the conferences of Astana and Sochi recently, which resulted in Russia and Assad being able to impose their influence on a large part of the Syrian territory on the one hand and, on the other hand, allowed Ankara to end the dream of Syrian Kurdish militias to establish their state in the north of the country, through the operations “Euphrates Shield” and “Olive Branch”. At the time when Sochi’s last deal set the future of the last strongholds of the Syrian revolution, Ankara raised its demands. The Turkish foreign ministry in recent talks with Moscow turned to the direction of Tell Rifaat north of the city of Halab*. Turkey is well aware that Moscow is in a difficult position regarding the future of Syria’s reconstruction following the denial of Europe and the United States to support this venture, as was clear from the failure of the Istanbul summit among the leaders of Russia, Turkey, Germany and France.

Minefield

Therefore, Turkey is the only way out and the most important source of assistance to the Russian problems in Syria. On this basis, Ankara is building today its requirements towards Moscow, with Tell Rifaat and its surroundings being on top. Ankara will also ask Moscow to increase pressure on Kurdish militias in eastern Syria to hand over the administration of their territories to the Assad regime. Erdoğan’s recent saying that Assad’s survival has to be decided by the people of Syria is, in my opinion, a significant concession.

The internal Turkish scene in general pushes Erdoğan more and more to move to Syria and achieve victories that will demonstrate the strength and wisdom of his policy. At present, the internal atmosphere is not very promising. The announcement by the Turkish Nationalist party ending the alliance with the Justice and Development Party was a powerful blow to the Erdoğan government. What attracted my attention was that Professor Ahmet Davutoğlu did not attend the inauguration ceremony of the new Istanbul airport, confirming the recent leaks that he would establish a new party, which could dramatically affect the influence of AKP and Erdoğan personally. So now Ankara is in a minefield both inside and outside. Any wrong step can lead to terrible consequences. However, I cannot turn a blind eye to the effectiveness of Ankara’s policy to date at internal, regional and international level despite all Western and Gulf pressures, even those of intelligence. November will act as the key to what will come and will determine how far Ankara’s influence field can be extended to the region.

*Aleppo