Category Archives: Turkey

The White House Saudi Arabian Conundrum

The action last week went as follows:

*The CIA confirms that bin Salman ordered the killing, dismembering and dissolution of Jamal Khashoggi

*The White House floats the idea to Ankara that attempted 2016 Turkish coup-leader Fethulla Gülen could be extradited to Turkey for trial; a potentially explosive move given that Gülen’s career has been inextricably linked with the CIA so far.

*Ankara refuses, however, to link the two matters under any circumstances, confounding Turkey’s critics, who maintain that the Turks are using the Khashoggi case in a self-interested ploy to obtain money from Saudi Arabia and political concessions from the US. The possibility that this case is helping Turkey reshape the future of the Middle East has so far escaped the purview of Western commentators.

*The White House takes the extradition of Gülen off the table and now mulls the fate of bin Salman. The White House’s search for an escape route for bin Salman appears to be an exercise in ruthless logical consistency. If the United States embraces, in Trump’s words, a ‘killer’ as Egyptian leader, what’s not to like about bin Salman?

You admit Jamal Khashoggi was killed in your consulate… so where’s the body?

Yesterday, Saudi prosecutors said Jamal Khashoggi’s killing was premeditated, citing Turkish evidence and changing the country’s account once again to try to ease international outrage over the slaying of the journalist. But, speaking at a meeting of the provincial leaders of the Justice and Development (AK) Party in Ankara today, Erdoğan responds quizzically: “So, where is Khashoggi’s body then? And who ordered the Khashoggi’s killing?

Erdoğan adds cryptically that Turkey has other “information and evidence” about the killing by Saudi officials after Khashoggi entered the consulate on Oct. 2, and it will eventually reveal that information. This comes after bin Salman seemed to turn his foreign policy on its head, in order presumably to please Erdoğan, after having talked with him in a phone call he had insisted on making.

The process of “death by a thousand cuts” continues unrelentingly, as the Turks seek to accumulate legally obtained evidence to match the intelligence data inadmissible in a court of law that they had from the start. The policy of gradually leaking the intelligence data to the press has so far been successful in pushing Saudi Arabia along in its multiple contradictory denials and admissions in the past 3 weeks. More to come as bin Salman writhes.

Bin Salman: death by a thousand cuts

Erdoğan promised the “naked truth” in today’s speech at the AKP party conference, but what he did was to tighten the noose without giving anything away. Saudi has admitted that Jamal Khashoggi was killed at the consulate, so now he wants to know from them who ordered the killing.

The Saudis have arrested 18 people in Saudi Arabia in connection with the killing, so he wants them to come and stand trial in Turkey. They said they don’t know where the body and that it was given to a local Turkish citizen to dispose of, so in his speech Erdoğan asked for the name of that person. Since the speech some of Jamal Khashoggi’s body parts have been found at the Saudi consul’s residence, which tells us that – yet again – the Saudis were lying.

Erdoğan is too wily a politician to rush and deliver the coup de grâce – reveal the video and audio evidence of the murder at the consulate, which is said to include a Skype call to bin Salman (MBS) – to nail a Saudi régime that none of the Western states are prepared to let go of despite their shock and horror at recent events. Better let it die on the vine… die by a thousand cuts.

Jamal Khashoggi: end game for Saudi thug Mohamed bin Salman

Turkish intelligence MİT and Istanbul police have the photos and names of the 15 murderers of Jamal Khashoggi, who are all linked to Saudi Intelligence, the Saudi foreign service and Mohamed bin Salman’s personal guard.

Khashoggi entered the consulate on CCTV footage (above centre), and no footage exists which films him exiting.

MİT knows that Jamal Khashoggi was killed, and in which room he was killed in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, because they have taken samples from the drain pipes around the consulate. They now want to search both the consulate and the Consul’s personal residence, as well as dig up its garden, which is under constant surveillance.

Bin Salman’s recent boast that the Turks are welcome to search the Consulate is an invitation now suddenly withdrawn, as it has become clear that  it is a police forensics team that is seeking access.

Trump has said nothing through all this, except that he knows nothing, although Mike Pence made a lame offer for the FBI to help out. This is clearly not necessary.

Mohamed bin Salman has destroyed Yemen because he doesn’t want any of the two major political blocks in the country to come to power, neither Houthis nor al-Islah (the Muslim Brotherhood). He has put the lives of 25m people at risk of starvation and epidemic.

But it is not this vicious war in Yemen that is going to bring bin Salman down. The war has been legitimised through U.S., British and French involvement. It is the murder of Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul which will achieve this; something the one-time journalist, critical of the current Saudi tyrant, is probably smiling about from the place where he now is. None of the hypocrites running the U.S., Britain or France will be able to whitewash this outrageous breach of all political and diplomatic norms. It would have passed if only he hadn’t been caught. Now it is too late.

All of bin Salman’s enemies are circling. And when bin Salman falls, the policy of total destruction that Trump and Kushner are gradually carrying out in the Middle East, will come to an abrupt close.

 

Idlib pact: Turkey will not accept no for an answer

As the deadline of October 15 on the setting up of a buffer zone under the Turkey-Russia Idlib accord approaches, it is clear that the Turks are not interested in no for an answer, from Hay’at Tahrir el-Sham, or any of the other fighting groups. Above is a picture (Anadolu) of the latest reinforcements for the Turkish observation posts around Idlib; the fourth convoy in a month. At least Putin isn’t worried about Turkey’s ability to deliver its end of the bargain.

The future now beckons a free Idlib, while US Kurdish proxies move against Iran

As this site has predicted for some time, Erdoğan convinced Putin of the need to de-escalate military threats in Idlib, through a combination of arming opposition forces, reinforcing Turkey’s positions,  and organising a major diplomatic offensive to bring Western powers behind Turkish policy. The presidents of Russia and Turkey may have agreed yesterday to create a “demilitarised zone” around Idlib, but this outcome was far from obvious after the Tehran summit broke up on September 7th.

Putin’s sudden cooperative stance at Sochi, and his emphasis now on the importance of Russian trade relations with Turkey, means that he had not fully taken into consideration the extent to which Turkey was willing to go to support the opposition to Assad and the dangers that posed to the Syrian régime if an assault on Idlib had led to counter-attacks in Aleppo and Hama, widening the war once again and exposing the régime’s threadbare nature. The survival of Assad is essential for the presence of Russian bases in Syria, and so is the continuation of the myth spun by Russian media that he has somehow won the war, even if he controls less than 50% of Syrian territory, all of it an economic basket-case.

The economic burden that Assad’s Syrian region poses for Russia is clear from the unsuccessful road show Putin recently promoted in Western capitals for the reconstruction of Syria. If Idlib had caused a Russo-Turkish split once again, not only would the Assad victory myth be fatally undermined but Russian economic plans in Turkey would also have to be put on hold; whether Turkstream, the Akkuyu power plant, or the wider project for dedollarisation of Russian trade in general that its currently good relations with Turkey is making possible.

The same kind of scenario holds for Iran. Its latest supportive announcement in favour of the Russian-Turkish deal, follows the relief felt by the Iranian government over the Turkish rejection of anti-Iranian US sanctions. It also perceives the economic opportunities offered by Turkish trade and Turkey’s centrality to the dedollarisation project as crucial to its national interest. Iran also helped to sway the balance of forces away from an assault on Idlib, and encourage the withdrawal of Syrian régime forces. It is also clear to Iran, with the unprecedented Western-backed Israeli attacks on Syria taking place, that the real threats to its national security have little to do with Idlib or indeed Turkey.

The agreement between Russia and Idlib is extremely important for the survival of the political rather than military solution to Syria’s future. Much of the pro-Russian media and assorted liberal commentators have always argued for the military option, for the crushing of the opposition to Assad, and now they maintain that Assad is merely biding his time. That is false. Assad would have come off the worse for a confrontation with Turkey, even with Russian air cover. The new Russo-Turkish agreement is turning point for the Arab Spring, a revival of the hopes for which is now making liberal commentators furious.

The details of the Sochi agreement are that a 15-20km wide buffer zone in Idlib jointly policed by Russian and Turkish forces is to come into force by 15 October, involving the “withdrawal of all radical fighters” including the ex-al-Qaeda Hay’at Tahrir el-SHAM (HTS). Erdoğan and Putin also agreed on the withdrawal of “heavy weaponry from this zone,” including tanks, multiple launch rocket systems, and rocket launchers, much of which had recently been supplied by Turkey anyway, in preparation for the upcoming attack. Now all this will be withdrawn to Turkish territory once again, and the radical groups moved to the Jarablus region of Syria, on the border with Syrian Kurdistan. Turkish intelligence (MİT) has now bought time to sift through the individuals in all those groups to be able weed out the foreign fighters and more dangerous elements during relocation.

War drums in Iraq: While the US makes agreeable noises about this new Russo-Turkish agreement, it is hardly overjoyed at the strengthening of those relations and of the Turkish position in northern Syria. The idea that there is any active US backing for a ceasefire in Idlib and a political solution in Syria is further misdirection from liberal commentary. US belligerence is merely taking a new turn, as tensions in the region now shift from Northern Syria to Northern Iraq, where Iran is facing increasing military pressure from US proxies.

It has become clear that US control in Syrian Kurdistan is viewed by the Pentagon as a launchpad for the re-taking of Northern Iraq with the help of the alphabet-soup of various Kurdish proxies. US Special Presidential Envoy Brett McGurk’s presence in Irbil during the negotiations for the formation of the next Iraqi government is evidence enough. Current US-backed Iraqi prime minister Abadi, whose future in those negotiations is uncertain as a result of his soaring unpopularity in the Iraqi street, is trying to curry favour with the US during this process by acting to bolster Kurdish positions in Iraq against Turkish incursions targeting the PKK.

Russia wakes up: slamming the brakes on the Assad fantasy

After the Turks sent massive arms shipments to the (anti-Assad) opposition group National Liberation Front (NLF), organised by the Turkish armed forces, and after Western powers, led by Britain, backed Erdoğan’s stance on Idlib in no uncertain terms, Putin has invited the Turkish president for an urgent meeting in Sochi this coming Monday, to discuss his proposals for clearing Idlib of the ex-al-Qaeda group Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).

It must be clear to Putin that after the capture and arrest of Yusuf Nazik by Turkish intelligence (MİT), in an undercover operation in the Syrian régime stronghold of Latakia, Turkish support for the NLF will last for ‘at long as it takes’ for the Syrian opposition group to win out against Assad. Things have changed dramatically with the public arrest and confession of Nazik, who is a Syrian intelligence operative involved in in a bomb attack in Reyhanlı, Hatay Province, on 11 May 2013, planned by Assad, which killed 53 people.

What is clear to Putin now is that Turkey will use this publicity as justification for its long-standing negative stance on Assad, and that it is likely that the Turkish armed forces will exact revenge for a bombing, which is not the first atrocity Assad organised against Turkish interests over the years. Furthermore, in the current Syrian scenario, and as Turkey is positioned with 12 concrete-reinforced bases around Idlib, its armed forces are perfectly positioned to deal a major military defeat on Assad’s forces. This could cause the total unwinding of a threadbare régime that still fantasises about nailing all of Syria under its rule. That is, if Russia is not careful.

But all the signs are that Russia is being careful. Quite apart from the call for the urgent Sochi meeting with the Turkish president, a sudden withdrawal of the “Tiger Forces”, an élite unit of Syrian régime forces under direct control of Russia and led by Brigadier Suhail Hassan, has been announced. The unit withdrew from the northern Hama countryside of Idlib Province, back towards the desert countryside of Suwayda.

 

The battle of Idlib: Russia vs. Turkey?

Turkey’s IHH send 20 trucks of aid to Idlib

Free Syrian Army (FSA) commander, Major İbrahim Majbour spoke to Yeni Şafak about developments following the Tehran summit. The FSA has been organised by Turkey for the purposes of defending specifically the Idlib region, under the umbrella of Jabhat al-Wataniyya lil-Tahrir (National Liberation Front/NLF).

In a dramatic turnaround, the Turkey government decided not to withdraw these elements from the region. This had been planned in order to isolate Hay’at Tahrir el-Sham (HTS), weaken them and encourage substantial sections of the ex al-Qaeda organisation to surrender. By blacklisting HTS, Turkey declared their intension to respond to Russian concerns about threats to their airbase at Khmeimim from units infiltrated by Western intelligence personnel. However, it became clear at the Tehran summit that Putin planned for a comprehensive attack on all fighting forces in the Idlib region.

Seeing that Russia and Iran had begun to flout the principles of the Astana peace process, with a wide ranging air and ground assault, the Turkish government has decided to confront the attacks, and to allow the FSA/NLF to remain to do the same. The fast paced action is now essentially pitting Turkish-backed forces against Russia and Iranian-backed forces.

Majbour pointed out that Russia is redeploying the same tactic it used against Daraa in the southwest, noting that Russia is currently trying to divide Idlib into five different regions through its intensified bombardment aimed at severing all links between them. However, the FSA/NLF has prepared for this, according to Majbour, and has planned a defence strategy based on differences between Idlib and Daraa from the geographic and strategic standpoints.

Furthermore, as mass demonstrations in central Idlib, Taftanaz, Kafranbel and Maaret al-Numan called for a Turkish invasion force to enter Idlib, Majbour says: “We once again saw the true intentions of Russia and Iran during the Tehran summit. Turkey has the strongest hand both on the table and on the ground because it is the only side that wants reconciliation without bloodshed.”

The people of Idlib are behind Turkey. For months, demonstrations have been held in every town and village. The whole world sees Turkey’s intense efforts. Those who want a show of force through bloodshed will realize that they will not actualize their goals.”

We were able to arrest dozens of instigators through the ongoing intelligence efforts of Turkey’s Idlib observation posts and opposition headquarters. There’s a large number of cells attempting to get people to surrender and spread chaos. There are cells that serve not only the PKK and Daesh, but also Russia and Iran. There have been 80 blasts over the past 10 days in Idlib. Simultaneously, the same provocations are ongoing in the axis of Jarabulus, Azaz, Afrin and al-Bab.”

Majbour added that as a mark of respect for Turkey’s diplomatic efforts,  the FSA/NLF had so far not mounted any attacks, noting that as soon as battle breaks out, the opposition forces had the capacity in fact, not only to defend their positions, but to counter-attack and overrun Latakia, Hama and Aleppo.

Clearly, while the Turkish government worked towards a compromise with Russia on sorting out the extremists from the moderate opposition forces in Idlib, plans were afoot all along in the event that Russia would reject that effort and tar all non-régime forces with the same brush, a point that stands out in the statements by Turkish presidential advisor, İbrahim Kalın.

If Majbour sees differences between the Idlib battlefront and all the previous confrontations with the Syrian régime, this is only partly due to the opposition’s determination and the well-laid battle plans that would seem now to enable the coordination of all opposition groups. The main reason for the difference is the fact that Idlib backs directly onto Turkish soil, and now that Turkey feels threatened by a new wave of refugees, it will ensure uninterrupted logistical supplies to opposition forces, for as long as it takes. So, the people of Idlib effectively have what they called for when they called for a Turkish invasion force. No more is necessary.

Iranian hubris at the Tehran conference was in evidence as Rouhani, taking Putin at his word that Russia would help Syrian régime and Iranian militias overrun Idlib, stated blandly that the next step was to remove American forces from Eastern Syria. The Syrian régime is threadbare and their Iranian backers will not be able to deal with organised resistance. How long will it take Putin to realise that he has made a mistake by not listening to Turkey on this matter? How long will it take for a tactical mistake to turn into a strategic one?

Russia sets the tone in Tehran as Turkey gets promises on coordination over military action

While the final statement of the Tehran Conference announces that there cannot be a military solution to the Syrian crisis, this is window dressing. Putin insists that driving out terrorist groups from Idlib is Russia’s unbending priority. It is interesting that he didn’t make it clear that by that he meant, in particular, Hay’at Tahrir el-Sham (HTS).

In the press conference following the summit, Putin underlined the fact that the fighting groups on the ground are very difficult to sort out one from the other, and from the civil population at large. An assault is therefore on the cards, and Turkish appeals for more time for negotiations will not in Russian eyes present enough pressure on HTS for their units to surrender.

Many aspects of the negotiations between Russia and Turkey in particular would not have been made public. Up to a point, much that is going on is an attempt at putting psychological pressure on fighting groups to surrender and give up their arms, and on the civil population to inform on their position to Turkish intelligence services.

Turkey, it seems, will organise a withdrawal of all the fighters under their aegis, in order to isolate those still resisting, thereby adding further psychological pressure, and driving home the reality of the fact that is no long any possibility for negotiating a retreat. However, in the end, Putin’s view of how to deal with terrorists is to act on promises of “a bloodbath” in the event of resistance.

His track record of carnage is a long one and began with the razing of Grozny. I can only hope that the accuracy of Turkish intelligence and the level of their cooperation with the Russians will allow a narrowing down of the zones of conflict in the case of Idlib. The Turkish involvement in Idlib will mitigate the prospective devastation, but not prevent it.

Nevertheless, the Turkish policy of positive involvement with the Syrian people will contribute considerably to the country’s soft power in the region over the long term. Its patience will be rewarded, while Russian policy  will cost it dear in the not too long term.

The short-sightedness of supporting a régime in Damascus aiming to extend its influence to all corners of Syria, without the capacity to provide even minimal services in its own back yard, is truly blinding. Chaos and infighting reigns within the ranks of Assad’s régime, and its prisons are full to the brim of political prisoners.

The hollowness of Russia’s call to a (disinterested) world for the reconstruction of Syria is, furthermore, deafening. Syria is an economic black hole. Can it be that Putin is making a noose for his own neck in Syria? And that he will, after helping to kill a few more thousands in Idlib, eventually be turning to Turkey for help?

The most explosive potential problem is the alliance between the Damascus régime and Iran. Unprecedented ethnic cleansing and demographic restructuring in Syria’s capital and in the South West has meant that large communities of Shi’a militia (of Iraqi, Afghan and Pakistani origin) under Iranian control are now resident nationals of Syria. When war erupts between Syria and Israel: what will Russia’s position be then?

The Tehran summit 7 September: Idlib

Sept 8: Assad drops barrel bombs on Khan Sheikhun, South Idlib Province, where he previously used chemical weapons

As Russia, Turkey and Iran sit down to discuss the future of Idlib today, there are a few facts to keep in mind which I have reiterated over and over.

Assad is an unreconstructed bloodthirsty and vengeful tyrant. He uses chemical weapons. The Russians rely on his régime to keep their military bases in Syria open. They spin and lie  (convincingly) through their media outlets (RT) about his use of chemical weapons.

Russia has in its sights thousands of Chechen, Dagestani, and Tatar jihadis of Russian origin who fight with HTS, who are hiding amongst the civilians population, and will not surrender. Russia is the prime mover in the prospective fight in Idlib.

Russia has already conducted airstrikes to pressure Turkey ahead of the summit, and Turkey has responded by blacklisting HTS to indicate its willingness to cooperate in rooting these elements out, and to differentiate them from the Free Syria Army (FSA) elements organised by the Turks under the umbrella Jabhat al-Wataniyya lil-Tahrir (National Liberation Front/NLF).

Only the considerable diplomatic pressure by the Turks, given the important economic relationship it has with Russia, has so far kept the lid on the advance on Idlib. It is also clear that the only relatively free and prosperous areas in Syria today are those in the north under Turkish control.

There is no sense among Syrians that Turkey, whatever its national interests, will ever let up on its efforts to counter the destruction meted out by Assad on his own people. Only Turkey, it seems, is looking out for the future of Syria’s children.