Saturday, March 11, 2017

Two Mid East leaders make no headway with Putin

Two close US allies, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, traveled to Moscow on Thursday and Friday (March 9-10), to press very different cases relating to Syria before Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Netanyahu chose to tackle the Russian leader on Iran, although he was recently welcomed at the White House as a close friend of US President Donald Trump and leader of a country strongly supported by the United States. He is regarded by the administration as the only Israeli politician capable of taking Israel through to a breakthrough in ties with the Arab world and a deal with the Palestinians. Whether this support will survive the personal attacks on Netanyahu and the investigations conducted against him remains to be seen.

Erdogan’s case is quite different. Trump originally viewed him as a partner in his plans for Syria. But the removal of Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser - and strong pro-Turkey advocate - undercut Erdogan’s influence in the White House. Flynn now turns out to have acted as a paid Ankara lobbyist licensed by the Justice Department during the Trump campaign.

In any case, the Turkish president lost much of his value as a useful partner when US generals awarded the Turkish army’s operations against ISIS in northern Syria a low grade, specifically its prolonged four-month siege on Al-Bab.

It was on the US generals’ recommendation that the Turkish army was substituted as spearhead for the main US offensive against the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa by the 55,000-strong Syrian Democratic Forces. Two-thirds of the SDF are fighters of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which has exhibited exceptional prowess in winning battles against ISIS.

After this change of partners, the Americans embarked on a build up of the SDF’s weaponry. The Russians quickly followed suit. Erdogan was incensed. He tried arguing that the YPG was a terrorist group, a branch of the Turkish Kurdish PKK, and US-Russian backing would bring about the rise of an independent Kurdish state in northern Syria next door to Turkey. READ MORE