The Kurdish-Russian-Israel Detente is Set to Change the Middle East

“We don’t aspire to create an autonomous zone that is exclusive to the Kurdish nation,” said Rodi Osman, director of the Syrian Kurd’s representative office in Moscow. “We envision to install a federal regime, democratic and secular, in which all parts of Syrian society can live and by which they will feel themselves represented,” he told reporters.

The fact though, is that the newly declared autonomous zone is another step along the way towards an independent Kurdish state, not only in Syria, but in Iraq as well.  The Kurds are the largest indigenous group of people still without a sovereign state.  However, that may be changing.

If the Kurds do in fact reach independence, in at least a partial part (Iraq and Syria) of their historic homeland, they will have ISIS to thank. Without ISIS, the Kurds would have at little leverage on the world to back them towards independence.  Interestingly enough, it has been Russia as of late that has come to bat for the YPG (People’s Defense Units) in Northern Syria. While the USA, Turkey and all parties in Syria rejected the Kurdish declaration, Moscow, did not.

Russia’s abrupt pullout of Syria, maybe more to do with a realignment in Putin’s strategic thinking in who he can support to continue boxing in Turkey and bolstering his control in the Middle East.  Remember, the Kurds are primarily secular and they have proven themselves very efficient in rooting out and destroying ISIS.  An independent Kurdish state in Northern Syria and Iraq, backed by Russia would not only put an end to American hegemony in the region(if there is any left). It would however be a death knell to Turkey’s expansionist philosophy.  For Putin, he cannot accomplish this with Iran and Syria’s Assad as they bring far more downside.  

For Israel, A South Sudan Redux?

As the Western world continues its decline, Israel has been carefully continuing its strategic realignment. It is no secret that Israeli officials met with Russian representatives about security issues in the North. This meeting took place just days before the Syrian Kurds declared their autonomy. It is also known that not only does Israel buy Kurdish oil and train the Peshmerga in Iraq, but Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu has gone on record supporting Kurdish independence.

Some would point towards South Sudan as a model for Israel to replicate with the Kurds. However similar, there are some very big differences.  The first is that Turkey, the USA, and the rest of NATO is in direct opposition.  The Kurds seem to have the entire world against them, except Russia. Yet, expecting Russia to rush a Kurdish state is to expect them to drop both Syria and Iran. This was very unlikely until now and that’s what makes the situation very interesting.

The Sunnis and Shiities look upon Kurdish independence as a break up of Arab colonialism from the South and Turkish colonialism from the North.  The Kurds, as are the Jews, Druze, and Arameans are the true indigenous people’s of the region. An independent Kurdish state would help no other Middle Eastern country except for Israel and with Putin’s increasing involvement in the region, an independent Kurdistan is becoming more of a reality than ever before. If the switch is on for Russia, Kurdistan would only need Israel’s tacit support, since the Russian Bear could offer it far more. For Israel, it needs to make sure it is on the right side of this geopolitical shift.  If not it could risk becoming further isolated.

Kurdistan Rising from the Chaos of War

First the Background

The Kurds, who have been itching for a sovereign state of their own, now find themselves in the unenviable position of being the chief agitators to Erdogan’s Turkey.  In the beginning of the turmoil in the Middle East Erdogan made a deal with the devil, ISIS.  The thought there was that Erdogan would be able to create a fundamentalist Sunni caliphate as a stop gap measure against the growing Iranian hegemony in the region.  Furthermore, the new caliphate would keep his arch enemies the Kurds in check.

Erdogan went about doing this by being the main corridor for ISIS bound fighters as well as the middle man for ISIS oil.  Of course Erdogan sold Kurdish oil on top of that. The Kurdish oil kept the Kurdish leadership in Northern Iraq beholden to Ankara.  This strategy is still in play, however Russia’s increasing intervention and Syria’s new found might against its Western backed foes has put a serious wrinkle in Turkey’s strategy.

Two Autonomous Kurdish Regions Are Too Many for Erdogan

As long as the Kurds relegated themselves to an autonomous province in Northern Iraq, Erdogan and Turkey’s military felt they had strategic strength.  Russia’s arming of the Syrian Kurdish Militia otherwise known as the YPG has alarmed Turkey.  Although the Kurdish population in Syria amounts to a small 1.6 million, the territory it has gained among the chaos has been significant.

The border between the Syrian Kurdish region and Iraqi Kurdish region, which has 6.6 million Kurds  has melted away, effectively giving the Kurds one long autonomous area stretching along the Southern border of Turkey.  With Turkey’s 15 million strong Kurdish population just to the North, Turkey is rapidly heading for destabilization.

After the Kurdish bombing in Ankara, the Turkish Prime Minister Davutoğlu said:

“We collected intelligence all night,” Davutoğlu told reporters in Ankara. “The perpetrators have been fully identified. The attack was carried out by YPG member Salih Necer, who came in from Syria.”

Of course the YPG has denied involvement.  Truth matters not though to Ankara, who needs some reason to put a stop to the de facto creation of a Kurdish republic to the South and perhaps even within Turkey.  The fear is compounded even more by Russia’s backing for Kurdish military operations.

If Turkey uses the pretense to attack Syria in order to push back Kurdish expansion, the die will be cast for an intense explosion in war activity throughout the Middle East.  The Kurds are seen by even America as in the right in relation to Turkey.  Erdogan may feel he has no choice, but his decision may end up taking him down one way or the other.

Can the Turkey-Russian War Break the Alliance System?

Are we in 1914 or 2016.  Sometimes with all of the alliances it’s hard to tell.  Then again when it comes to Syria there are some outliers that might just throw the alliance system out the window. With the war in Syria on the verge of turning into a much wider conflict it is important to understand how all the sides are stacked.

Russia, Iran, Syria, Armenia

The Shiite-Russian alliance has been steadily growing for some time. The pervading assumption has been Russia’s need for a Mediterranean port being behind his support of Assad.  With Turkey’s downing of the SU-24, Putin’s calculus has changed.

Long an opponent of Turkey’s expansionism, Putin used the SU-24 incident to turn the screws on Turkey’s Erdogan. Armenia, a close ally of Russia is being beefed up as a potential launching pad for attacks against Turkey.  Besides its alliance with Russia, Armenia has historical redresses with Turkey going back to the 1915 Armenian Genocide.

Iran and the Syrian government’s forces have become Russia’s ground troops in taking back the strategic Western part of the country. Russia has avoided a repeat of its Afghanistan debacle by using the Shiite armies to do its work. Besides that, the Shiites are giving Russia real geopolitical leverage against the region’s Sunni powers.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Gulf States

What makes the stakes so high in Syria, is the exacerbation of the Sunni-Shiite conflict.  With Russia in full concert with the Shiite led countries, the Sunni states like Saudi Arabia and Turkey see no other choice but to go into the fray.  The reasoning is simple: the Shiites with a resurgent Russia need to be stopped now or risk being too formidable once their gains are entrenched.

The Sunnis are 90% of the Islamic world, but the growing Shiite crescent creates a real strategic nightmare for them, effectively cutting the Sunni world in two and, of course, controlling key oil routes that will have a very real effect on future regional control.


Although conventional wisdom insists that NATO would issue the game changing Article 5 in the case of a Turkish-Russian war, it is not at all clear NATO will pick a side. Europe is very much dependent on Russian gas during the winter.  They are also trying to tamp down the off again on again conflict in East Ukraine and need Russia to help them.  As for Obama and the USA, getting into a war with Russia and the Shiites on behalf of Turkey and the gulf states is not something they want.  

With all of that being said, a full out war between Russia and Turkey will have large consequences for energy control, economy, and refugees.  NATO may have little choice but to jump into things on behalf of their most disliked member, Turkey, even if the gamble proves to be a negative one.

Greece, Cyprus, Israel

With Greece, Cyprus, and Israel’s new found partnership in energy, technology, and security all three of them are loath to pick sides in what is fast turning into a geopolitical typhoon.  Greece and Cyprus are arch enemies of Turkey and it is no surprise that Greece has made it clear that they see Russia as a friend and potential partner.  This of course puts Israel into an uncomfortable position.  At one hand, Israel has been seeking what is known as a neutral foreign policy for decades and, on the other hand, is still very much in the orbit of Europe and the USA.  

With Russian overflights of Israeli airspace increasing daily and new trade avenues opening up with the very countries aligned with Russia, it should no longer be surprising what side the government in Jerusalem picks. Then again, that would put it on the same side as its arch enemies, Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah.  Russia insists it has them in check, but trusting Putin has never been a good idea.

Of course, Bibi and Israel rather stay out of it and continue trading with all parties equally, but remaining neutral may no longer be an option.


The King of Jordan has vacillated between the West and Russia.  In many ways for the same reason Israel has. Surrounded by ISIS and Al Qaida, King Hussein’s rule is the most tenuous in the Middle East.  Assurances for his family and his throne’s safety are key.  If Russia can promise protection, then Jordan may very well switch sides.


Kurdistan has always been hard to read. Typically speaking, the Kurds (split between Turkey, Syria, and Iraq) have done their best to pick partners that would be willing to help them advance their independence agenda. In this case, Russia seems most willing to help defend and enhance Kurdish objectives; mainly because the Kurds are the single biggest domestic threat to Turkey.

If a Turkish-Russian war does materialize then the Kurds are Putin’s most important weapon.  They give Putin a Turkish domestic constituency primed for a violent uprising.  In addition, they are a formidable fighting force situated along the length of Turkey’s entire Southern border.  Coupled with the fact that Iraqi Kurdistan is oil rich makes them the lynchpin Putin needs.

What’s Next?

Full on war between Russia and Turkey and their respective allies seems almost certain at this point.  The question is: when? That depends much on Turkey’s actions in the next few days.  If the Turkish army continues to shell Northern Syria and even sends troops in then Russia will act. Russia will claim they have no choice but to capture the Bosphorous Straits, in order to defend against a Turkish closure to Russian vessels. At that point, the key actor to look at is NATO.  If they enter on the side of Turkey,  Russia will send their army into Ukraine. Once that happens all bets are off.

Turkey and Israel, Friends Again?

We live in a strange world.  As the American uni-polar world collapses, alliances are born and others fall away. Partnerships are formed based on near term survival, without consideration for the long view.  Turkey, by all estimates was heading into the dustbin.  Surrounded by Russia to the North East, Iran to the South East, and a resurgent Assad to the South with Russia behind him, Erdogan, the Sultan not to be was cornered. Russia supplies most of Turkey’s gas. Without Russia’s gas, Turkey would collapse due to a lack of energy.

Israel an Energy Leader

Israel rushed through the gas deal this week, not only because of the new energy alliance with Greece, Cyprus, and Egypt, but because of the secret deal now reveled to the World. Turkey would be given a life line and pulled out of its corner and Israel would act as the senior partner in the relationship.

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Leadership requires making decisions even if they are unpopular. Erdogan is not a nice guy.  He slaughters Kurds and denies his country’s role in the Armenian genocide, but Israel is in a different place now and chose to offer Turkey the lifeline it needed.

Two Viewpoints

There have been two pervading viewpoints int he defense establishment in Israel.  One is to work with Russia and embrace Assad in order to return stability to the Middle East. The other is to build relationships that will counteract Iran no matter the cost of stability and Russian tactical considerations.  The Turkey move, means the latter won out.

What of Greece and Cyprus?

Greece and Cyprus need Israel far more than it needs them.  The returning to ties with Turkey is a cold one, brought on by Jerusalem’s concern about Iran and Syria coming out of this war in a clearly unstoppable manner. Strengthening Turkey in a non-emotional way provides a push back to the Shiites. None of the maneuvers we are seeing are the products of long term strategic planning.  The post USA Middle East is too new to learn where the lines will be drawn.

Out of Putin’s own Playbook

Israel agreed to the return of relations with Turkey only because of the gas pipeline Turkey is willing to lay for Israel. By becoming the major gas provider to Turkey Israel holds the upper hand in the relationship. Mess with Israel and Turkey loses its gas. This has been Putin’s strategy with Europe for years.

A Dangerous Path

With Russia preparing for a possible war with Turkey and their tactical partnership with Iran, throwing a way out to Erdogan puts us in an uncomfortable situation. Putin clearly views Erdogan as enemy number one.  Israel helping him does not bode well for our relationship with Russia.  It could be there was never anything to talk about with Putin and that Jerusalem decided to move forward before Putin and company decided to put the Jewish Nation into a more uncomfortable spot. Whatever the reason, the new gas partnership puts Israel on the side of those counties Putin dislikes. In the coming weeks Israel will have to go out of its way to play down the deal or potentially face the wrath of Putin and his forces.

[Podcast] Israel’s Allies and Turkey’s Demise

This podcast is a continuation of my previous post on Israel’s indigenous allies.  The podcast covers Turkey’s isolation and the fast pace of the new security and energy alliance in the Eastern Mediterranean between Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, and Israel. In the podcast we also discuss Russia’s relationship to Israel and the turbulent changes in the region. Other subjects we cover are Russia’s encirclement of Turkey by way of Armenia, Iraq, and Syria, as well as Greece and Cyprus.

Sources to look at:


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Israel’s Indigenous Allies

In the turbulent middle east friends can be hard to find, yet there are some allies Israel can unify behind it under the banner of fellow indigenous people of the region.  Before the Islamic Jihad poured out of the Arabian peninsula, the region looked a lot different. Over the years, the world has gotten used to the idea that the Arab nation has always been here, but as I illustrated in my last post on Yathrib, the truth is a different manner.

What is taking shape in the region spanning from the Eastern Mediterranean to East Iraq, is a rising up of those peoples pushed to the corner by Arab muslims over the past 1300 years. The following is a short list of perhaps the most friendly to Israel and why each one can and should see itself as part of a larger alliance in the region.


So much has been written about the Kurds. They are the largest group still without a sovereign state, unless you consider the Kurdish Autonomous Region one. They are hated by Turkey and have been friendly to Israel.  They are Islamic in culture, but religiously very tolerant.  Related to the ancient Medes who were always welcoming to the Jews, they were the indigenous people of what is now Northern Iraq. Attacked from the South  by various caliphates and the North by the Turks, the Kurds are fierce in the defense of their homeland.

Israel has provided training and weapons to the KRG and behind the scenes has built an oil trade stemming from Mosul.  The fact that both groups find themselves on the same side when it comes to both ISIS and Turkey only cements the quiet partnership.


The Druze are part of the fabric of Israeli society.  They serve in some of the most elite units and are loyal to the state. Israeli Druze consider themselves to be part of a blood pact with the Jewish people and will defend the Land against the Arabs, whom they consider to be invaders. Major population centers of the Druze exist in Southern Lebanon and Jabal Al Druze in Southern Syria. There are 1.5 million Druze in the Levant.

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Cyprus has been under the broader Greek world for almost 2.5 thousand years.  Lying just to the West of Israel, it is one of the largest islands of the Mediterranean and shares many of the same gas fields as  Israel does.  It also suffers from occupation, with the Northern half of the Island under occupation from Turkey. This makes Cyprus a perfect partner in both defense and energy.


One of the most confusing things about Christians in Israel has been their connection to the Arab narrative.  Of course this has always been partly due to the fact that the Arab conquest forced many of these Christians to adopt Arab culture.  Despite this, many Christians in Israel and Syria have clawed back into their roots and have rebuilt their stolen identity once known as Aramean.  These Arameans are under threat in Syria, but have found Israel to be an excellent and natural ally against their common enemy, radical Islam.


Copts are the indigenous people of Egypt, that is before the Arabs invaded. They remained the majority population there until the 10th century and to this day are a large minority within Egypt. Since their roots can be traced to the beginning of Christianity and according to many Copts to the ancient Egyptians, the Arabs have made sure to oppress them in order to substantiate their hold.  Copts probably suffer the worst persecution across Egypt, Sudan, and Libya. Their plight is well known. Recently El Sisi, president of Egypt has gone out of his way to protect them.  


Armenians are an ancient people and although in the Southern Caucasus region, their proximity to Turkey, Iran, and Iraq, put them into the Middle East’s strategic envelope. They suffered heavily under the Turks and were decimated by the Ottomans in the early 20th century. One of the four quarters in Jerusalem’s Old City is heavily populated by Armenians and because of their suffering at the hands of the Turks they feel a sense of friendship with Israel and the Jewish people.

Armenians are also becoming a key geo-location in the growing friction between Russia and Turkey.  Russia has recently positioned attack helicopters there as part of their growing encirclement of Turkey. With all eyes on Turkey and ISIS, Armenia provides a great strategic ally in Caucasus region for Israel. It is another indigenous people that have suffered at the hands of Turkey, which has become one of the main backers of ISIS and radical Islam.

The above groups can serve as something more than a security envelope for Israel.  They can serve as a foundation for a liberated Middle East.


The Israel Kurdistan Connection


When Bibi Netanyahu stated in June of 2014 that the Kurds “are a fighting people that has proved its political commitment, political moderation, and deserves political independence,” it surprised very few observers.  Israeli Kurdish relations have been the quiet success story of the ever growing chaotic and war-torn middle east.  The Kurds have enjoyed defacto sovereignty over Northern Iraq ever since the days of George W. Bush’s misguided adventures in state building, but nevertheless, one of the brightest points that came out of that foray is the burgeoning autonomous region of Kurdistan. Of course this is to the chagrin of Turkey and Syria (whatever is left of it), but nevertheless the Kurds are prospering despite the challenges of being a non-state actor pressed by all sides (Turkey in the North, ISIS to the South and West, and Iran to the East).

For Israel’s part, it has become clear that a stable Middle East, if there is a chance for one, revolves around the Kurds finding their long elusive independence.  Besides a civic society, independence requires economic and military capabilities to ensure survival.  This is where Israel has provided covert but necessary help.

Oil Revenues Driving Kurdish Economy

It is no secret that Northern Iraq is flush with crude oil.  This would make the autonomous Kurdish region a potentially wealthy area.  The challenge for the Kurds has been to get their oil out to the market outside of the framework of the Iraqi federal government.  An agreement was reached between the KRG (Kurdish Regional Government) and the Iraqi Federal government in December of last year, which would have seen 17% of the national oil revenues go to the KRG in return for a ban on selling their oil outside the national framework. The agreement fell through shortly after that and the Kurdish Regional Government once again began to sell their oil on the black market.

The flow of Kurdish oil to the world takes an interesting direction and with it some unusual partners. The Times of Israel quotes a report in FT this past August that Israel uses a Maltese shipping company to transfer Kurdish oil from the Turkish port of Ceyhan.  The total amount purchased was 19 million barrels of Kurdish oil, worth roughly $1 billion, between May and August of this year. This would support 77% of Israel’s total energy needs. Of course the oil seems to go from Israel to markets around the World.

Given the fact that the Turks and Kurds are mortal enemies this appears to be strange.  The Kurds deny this, but the evidence from the shipping routes is clear.  Israel has become the middleman for Kurdish oil.  Of course one reason that the Turks might be looking the other way is that their newly uncovered ISIS allies are also using the avenue to get their oil out to market. Despite fierce battles between the Kurdish Peshmerga and ISIS, when it comes to oil and money, the guns are put away.

The Kurds, with Israeli help, have built a thriving oil economy.

Peshmerga is an IDF Trained Army

It is known that in the 1960’s and 1970’s the IDF worked covertly to train the Kurdish Peshmerga to fight the Iraqi government. As recently as 2010, it seems that the Israeli government had sent officials to the KRG to help train their fighters. Since 2003 the Israeli government has been exporting weapons and other military supplies to the Kurdish region and, although no official recognition of this relationship exists, it is a known fact to both governments as well the Europeans and the USA.

Why Kurdistan?

The Israeli Kurdish relationship is complex and yet should be seen in a broader regional context.  Outside the Arabs, four other immediate indigenous players exist in the Middle East: Israelis (Jews), Arameans (Marionite Christians), Druze, and the Kurds.  Before the Arab expansionism after the Mohammed’s death, these four groups made up the indigenous groups outside the Arabian peninsula (Jews actually had independent kingdoms in Yemen and Arabia).

Traditionally for Israel, there is a natural affinity, almost brotherly between these four groups. Israel’s increased strength means that there is a potential to reset the balance to what it was before the Islamic push occurred. An independent Kurdistan would go a long way to not only restoring a sense of justice to the region, but it would bring a much needed stable player in a chaotic area of the world.

Russia on the Move

Ever since Turkey shot down the Russian SU-24 fighter jet last week, Russia has increased its push into controlling Syria. It has become apparent to most analysts that the Russians have laid off the Syrian Kurdish army and have focused on decimating the rebel allies of the Turkish government.  It is not a huge stretch to figure out who Putin would most likely want to befriend next.  Let me just say Turkey will not be so amused.