8 Αυγούστου 2016

Τρία Κείμενα.

Τρία Κείμενα: I) Facing defeat, US threatens to balkanise Syria II) Israel pops up in Gulf riding Arab coattails III) Who stands to gain as Aleppo battle rages?

Facing defeat, US threatens to balkanise Syria

M K Bhadrakumar - July 31, 2016

The acerbic remarks calling into question Syria’s future as a sovereign country by the CIA chief John Brennan at the Aspen Security Forum meet in Colorado on Saturday betray a high level of US frustration over emergent ground realities. (Reuters) The Syrian government forces, supported by Russian forces and Iranian and Hezbollah fighters have encircled the strategic northern city of Aleppo. The extremist groups supported by the US and its allies are trapped in the city.

Meanwhile, Russia has announced the opening of ‘humanitarian corridors’ to facilitate civilians to leave the city and for terrorists to surrender. The Russian announcement makes the US looks very foolish regionally for having been outwitted comprehensively.

Secretary of State John Kerry thought he’d engage Moscow on the diplomatic track by discussing a ceasefire and a tantalizing proposal to undertake joint operations in Syria, while on parallel track gain respite for opposition groups to recover lost ground in Aleppo. As the recent announcement on Nusra Front snapping links with Al-Qaeda exposes, US gameplan was to gain time to legitimise its support for Nusra and insulate the group from Russian air attacks. On their part, the Russians simply played along, while allowing joint military operations with Damascus and Tehran for capturing Aleppo to continue.

The ‘humanitarian corridor’ is a double-edged sword. The humanitarian situation is indeed critical and Russian relief supplies convey a political message of reconciliation. Having said that, the refugees coming out of Aleppo would have eyes set on European destinations and they could include terrorists, too.

The following excerpts of a commentary by FARS news agency (which is linked to the IRGC) would give a sense of the triumphalism in Tehran that the US and Saudi Arabia have lost the war:

  • The foreign-backed attempt to regime change Syria and establish an ‘American Caliphate’ in the Levant has failed and is now history…. A large number of terrorists from Al-Nusra, Noureddin Al-Zinki, Free Syrian Army, Ahrar al-Sham and other groups have laid down their arms and surrendered to the Syrian Army in Aleppo province as allied forces (Syrian soldiers backed by Hezbollah, Iranian military advisors and Russian airstrikes) are racing towards Aleppo after completing siege of the city.

  • President Bashar Assad has offered an amnesty for rebels who surrender within three months. The Syrian Army has dropped thousands of leaflets over militant-held districts in Aleppo, asking residents to cooperate with the military and calling on militants to surrender.

  • Well, the party is clearly over and the foreign-backed terror machine seems to be a doomed project. This is the historical moment we are in… Those who backed ISIL and many other terror outfits are just going to have to own up to what Syria and Iraq have become… On the other hand, the trend lines on the War on Terror, refugee crisis, anti-Islam and anti-Muslim propaganda, failure of Western democracy and the vast militarised police and security system all point toward deep trouble in Europe as well. On refugee and humanitarian issues alone the crisis will deepen and most likely in a dramatic way. Recent terror attacks in France and Germany suggest they are woefully unprepared for what lies ahead.

The mother of all ironies will be that European countries face the spectre of terrorists knocking at the gates, who were trained and equipped by the CIA. Brennan’s threat to balkanize Syria is bravado, since any such misadventure will be opposed not only by Tehran, Damascus and Moscow but also by Ankara. (Al-Arabiya)

Tehran has announced that a delegation led by the chief of the foreign and security policy commission of Majlis, Ala’eddin Broujerdi, an influential figure in the Iranian foreign-policy establishment, will go to Damascus on a 5-day mission to discuss with President Bashar Al-Assad the political and diplomatic trajectory ahead to garner the ‘peace dividend’. (Tehran Times)

Read a Russian commentary entitled  Four Reasons Why Liberation of Aleppo Would Mean an End to the Syrian War.

Israel pops up in Gulf riding Arab coattails

M K Bhadrakumar - August 7, 2016

The reported statement by former Israeli minister Diaspora Affairs Rabbi Michael Melchior that Saudi Arabia will open its doors to Israeli visitors “much sooner than you dream about” will not come as surprise. ( Al-Manar TV) To be sure, a critical mass is developing in the secretive Saudi-Israeli intercourse.

The Saudi regime has been chary about links with Israel for fear of annoying the ‘Arab Street’, whereas, Israel has been all along eager to flaunt the breach in the Berlin Wall of Arab-Israeli conflict. But Saudis seem to estimate now that the time has come to be open about the relationship.

The point is, if the raison d’etre of the dalliance is the ‘containment’ of Iran, it is about resource-sharing. An open relationship is needed to optimally develop security and military cooperation. The Custodian of Holy Places seems to think the Muslim world will learn to live with his country’s strategic cooperation with Israel.

The Palestinian issue no longer poses hurdles, either. Arab Spring, conflicts in Syria and Iraq, military coup in Egypt, Saudi-Iranian rivalry, breakdown in Iran’s ties with Hamas, Islamic State – all these  have relegated the Palestinian issue to the backburner. Besides, Palestine President Mahmoud Abbas is on tight American and Saudi leash. Abbas even received in Ramallah recently a Saudi delegation led by former general Anwar Majed Eshki who visited Jerusalem and met senior Israeli officials, including the head of the foreign ministry Dore Gold.  

Again, Saudi Arabia’s keen interest in taking possession of two Red Sea islands at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba – Tiran and Sanafir – needs to be understood as a move driven by the desire to be Israel’s next-door ‘neighbor’. Sanafir and Tiran sit at the mouth of the Gulf of Aqaba, on a strategically important stretch of water called the Strait of Tiran, used by Israel to access Red Sea.King Salman personally camped in Cairo in April to persuade Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to transfer the two islands in lieu of a seductive multi-billion dollar aid package to Sisi.

Indeed, both Saudi Arabia and Israel are making haste to position themselves for a new phase of the Middle East’s politics in the post-Barack Obama era. They expect Hillary Clinton to pick up the threads where George W. Bush left them —  a muscular regional policy involving switch back to containment of Iran and resuscitation of the pivotal relationships with Israel and Saudi Arabia.

Neither Saudi Arabia nor Israel is willing to reconcile with the Iran nuclear deal. They are doing everything possible, no matter what it takes, to see that the deal gets derailed. On Saturday, Israeli Defence Ministry issued a harshly-worded statement slamming Obama and comparing the Iran deal with the 1938 Munich agreement to appease Hitler. (Jerusalem Post)

Equally, Saudis and Israelis have convergent interests in regard of the conflicts in Syria and Iraq — supporting extremist Sunni groups, promoting the Kurdistan project, creation of ‘spheres of influence’ on Syrian and Iraqi territory, and ultimately, entrapping Iran in a quagmire that will exhaust the regime. 

The Saudi-Israeli strategic regional realignment is something that Washington historically encouraged. It is just the underpinning needed for creating a regional security architecture supported by the NATO’s network of partnerships with the GCC states under the canopy of a US missile shield.

Alas, Turkey too could have been a key partner in this enterprise, but for the failure of the July 15 coup. Israel looked distressed when it transpired that the coup failed. As for Saudi Arabia, it probably played a role in the failed coup. (Sputnik)

Without doubt, it is against a complex backdrop that the recent reports regarding Israel and Pakistan taking part in a major air exercise hosted by the US also needs to be viewed. Neither Islamabad nor Tel Avi has denied the reports. Of course, US always encouraged a Pak-Israeli proximity. Now, the big question is: With Saudi Arabia establishing ties with Israel, can Pakistan be far behind? (Times of Israel)

From the Israeli, Saudi and American perspective, it is of the utmost importance that Pakistan aligns with Saudi Arabia instead of remaining neutral in regard of Iran’s rise. Pakistan’s role is crucial to any major plans of destabilization of Iran. 

Israel and Saudi Arabia pretended until recently that they have a special thing going with Moscow, too, with a view to create ‘strategic ambiguity’. Moscow played along, while making a calculated decision that it is Iran which can be its ‘natural ally’ in the Middle East. This is perfectly understandable, because in the ultimate analysis, Israel and Saudi Arabia are bit players, while Iran (or Turkey for that matter) is an authentic regional power credited with a cosmopolitan world view. 

It is possible to see the first-ever Russia-Azerbaijan-Iran trilateral summit taking place in Baku on Monday as a strategic counter-move by Moscow and Tehran. The proposed North-South Transport Corridor is  admittedly an old idea with a pronounced economic dimension, but in the present context, an access route for Russia to Persian Gulf and the Middle East via Iran’s territory becomes a geopolitical event of far-reaching significance in the regional alignments that are under way. (See my blog China’s One Belt One Road isn’t only show in town.) 

Who stands to gain as Aleppo battle rages?


Certainly, it can’t be Turkey and Russia – or Iran. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the US seems to be feeling unnerved by the Russian-Turkish rapprochement and President Recep Erdogan’s proposed visit to Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin on August 9.

President Barack Obama’s reputation as “prudent retrencher” in America’s foreign entanglements stands corrected in the recent weeks.

Once again Obama went by the military commanders’ wish and agreed to keep American troop level in Afghanistan in such a way to allow an open-ended US occupation.

Again, he just resumed bombing Libya – without any UN mandate and although Hillary Clinton is no longer coaxing him to do that – in a futile campaign that could easily morph into full-fledged military intervention if the next president feels so.

But it is in Syria that the “alter-ego” is surging. Obama is displaying willingness to escalate the war and keep it at a threshold where a plausible option is open to the next president to seek “regime change” through use of force.

As a matter of fact, Dennis Ross, former senior Middle East advisor to Obama, wrote only last week in the New York Times that by using drones and cruise missiles to hit the Assad government’s military resources, US could begin “speaking in a language that Mr. Assad and Mr. Putin understand.”

Curiously, three things happened in Syria in the past week alone – shooting down of a Russian helicopter in Idlib, capture of the northern town of Majib from Islamic State, and the counterattack to break the siege of Aleppo – all of which have varying degrees of US involvement.

The stunning thing is that the uncertainties in Turkish policies do not seem to have come in the way. Can it be that these uncertainties have prompted Washington to accelerate to create new conditions in Syria?

The capture of Manjib by Syrian Kurdish militia in the weekend was only possible with the direct participation of US Special Forces and ferocious US airstrikes (plainly disregarding international criticism about large-scale civilian casualties).

The Russian reports just stopped short of accusing that the MANPADS – shoulder-mounted surface-to-air missiles – used for shooting down the helicopter last Monday would have originated from the US (or transferred by its allies with its knowledge and approval).

The MANPADS would be a ‘game changer’ in the hands of the US-backed rebel forces – much like the famous Stinger missiles in the Afghan ‘jihad’ against the Red Army in the eighties. Reuters pointed out that in the area in Idlib near Aleppo where the Russian helicopter was shot down, Islamic State fighters are not active, “but there are other Islamist rebel groups there, as well as moderates backed by the United States and its allies”.

The report added,

• That raises the prospect — which could cause a major diplomatic incident — of the helicopter having been brought down by a U.S.-supplied weapon. The United States has equipped some rebel groups with TOW anti-tank missiles, which can also be used against helicopters.

Moscow obviously chose to play down the incident. However, with regard to the current rebel counter-offensive in Aleppo, Russian reports are explicit that these “al-Nusra Front and allied anti-Assad Islamist rebel groups… are strangely backed by the United States”. Sputnik reported:

• Washington-backed ‘moderate’ rebels, including a freshly re-branded al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda) and the violent Islamist group Ahrar al-Sham breached the Syrian government siege in the city of Aleppo on Saturday opening a corridor in the south marking a major setback for the Syrian Army supported by Russian air power.

This is not to suggest that Russia is gearing up for a confrontation with the Obama administration. Rather, the US seems to be creating new ground realities where Dennis Ross’s prognosis can become a viable action point at a future date if a future US president decides on those lines.

The Russian reports are cautiously optimistic that the US-backed rebel attacks in Aleppo will be “short-lived”. The Syrian government and Hezbollah have rushed in reinforcements, according to Iranian reports.

But the Saudi establishment daily Asharq Al-Awsat has boasted that “it will take only hours to liberate eastern areas (of Aleppo) and rebels have crossed halfway through liberating the whole city”. The daily reported on Saturday that “news about liberalizing (sic) Aleppo will be announced in hours.”

Clearly, a do-or-die battle is shaping up in Aleppo. What introduces an element of intrigue here is that the US-backed rebel offensive got under way hardly 48 hours before the trip by Turkish President Recep Erdogan to Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin on August 9.

On Friday, Erdogan had received Kazakhstan President Nurusultan Nazarbayev who came to Turkey on an announced visit. Nazarbayev is a trusted friend and associate of Putin in regional politics.

Erdogan told the media that Nazarbayev made a “big contribution to re-establishing concord” between Turkey and Russia. He said they held “similar views on relations with Russia”.

Again, on Saturday, Erdogan told TASS in an interview: “It will be a historical visit (to Russia), a new start. I believe talks with my friend Vladimir will open up a new page in bilateral relations. Our countries have a lot to do together.”

He stressed, “It is impossible to find solution to the Syrian problem without Russia’s participation. We can settle the crisis in Syria only in cooperation with Russia”.

All things considered, the big question is: Who stands to gain by pushing the envelope in Aleppo at this point? Certainly, it can’t be Turkey and Russia – or Iran. The only conclusion that can be drawn is that certain quarters seem to be feeling unnerved by the Russian-Turkish rapprochement.

To be sure, Obama’s “alter-ego” will get noticed in Ankara, Moscow and Tehran.

Interestingly, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani disclosed that at a meeting with Putin in Baku today (Monday), he hoped to discuss regional security and stability in the Middle East with emphasis on strengthening the fight against terrorism.

Put differently, Iran and Moscow will work out a coordinated response in Syria.

Significantly, the influential foreign policy advisor to Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Akbar Velayati warned the Obama administration on Sunday not to underestimate Iran’s will to safeguard its national interests.

“Iran is always free to act based on its national interests in the region, Syria, Iraq, Yemen and other different places”, Velayati said.

Ambassador MK Bhadrakumar served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998) and to Turkey (1998-2001). He writes the “Indian Punchline” blog and has written regularly for Asia Times since 2001.

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