COLD WAR RENEWED: Israel and Kurdish SDF are Now Trump’s Weapons Against Iran

The New Cold War between the USA and Russia-China is beginning to affect the Middle East in ways that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.  It had been previously believed that the Trump administration would continue to pull back from the Middle East, effectively allowing Putin to deal with ISIS and thus cement his control over the region.  This pullback reached it peak with the failure of the US to pick sides between the Shiite run Iraq and its Kurdish autonomous region over the fate of Kirkuk.

With Iran’s fingerprints increasingly apparent in Iraq and more obvious in Syria, the US government has decided to change course and confront the Shiite menace and its Russian backers with a far more ambitious strategy than ever before.

President Trump, campaigning against direct US involvement in the Middle East has had his team draft a strategic plan that will help a weakened US military confront these strategic threats head on. Two partners are emerging to help the US push back on the strength Russian-Shiite grip over the Middle East.

The first is the Kurdish dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Northern Syria.  This force is fully US trained and led most of the successful operations against ISIS in the Syrian arena.  The SDF areas border Turkey and reach far South and East as well as Afrin to the West.  The challenge for the Trump administration is to contain Turkey’s threats against the Kurdish positions in Afrin.

Strengthening the view that the US is busy turning the SDF areas into a semi-autonomous Kurdish state in Northern Syria are confirmed reports that the US is busy setting up a 30,000 strong SDF force to deal with border issues.  In an email to Reuters the Coalition’s Press Office said the following:

“Efforts are taken to ensure individuals serve in areas close to their homes. Therefore, the ethnic composition of the force will be relative to the areas in which they serve.”

“More Kurds will serve in the areas in northern Syria. More Arabs will serve in areas along the Euphrates River Valley and along the border with Iraq to the south.”

The rise of the SDF has been a sore spot between the US and Turkey.  The increased shelling of Afrin will inevitably test this relationship at its core.

The second partner is Israel.  Towards the end of Obama’s tenure, Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to approach the growing presence of Russia in the Middle East within the context of neutrality.  Afterall, in the absence of a coherent and clear US policy the Israeli government needed to be allowed a good deal of autonomy in keeping back the growing Iranian and Hezbollah menace.  Putin granted Israel freedom of movement as long the latter checked with him first.

With Putin allowing Iran to build up its presence so close to Israel despite assurances from Moscow, Israel and the Trump administration’s needs have overlapped.  Like the SDF to the North, the Trump administration sees Israel as thee bulwark of its containment strategy against the Russia-Iran axis.  The Jerusalem declaration was the beginning of this consolidation behind Israel’s needs.  This of course effectively buried the Palestinian issue permanently.  Afterall, the Jerusalem announcement triggered the Palestinian’s own self-destruction by their admission.

Palestinian permanent president Mahmoud Abbas said the following at a PLO meeting:

“What would you want if Jerusalem were to be lost? Would you want to make a state with Abu Dis as its capital? That’s what they are offering us now. Abu Dis.”

“We won’t take orders from anyone,” Abbas said. “We told Trump we will never accept his [peace] plan. His ‘deal of the century’ is the slap in the face of the century, and we will not accept it.”

In the same speech Abbas cursed Trump that his house be destroyed and his family thrown out on the street. This was a huge mistake.

By backing out of negotiations the Palestinians have self-buried their own aspirations. Within the context of the New Cold War, this essentially means sidelined indefinitely.  With the New Cold war far more hot than its predecessor, false narratives such as the Palestinians cannot out live the needs of the USA or the Trump administration’s unfolding Middle East strategy.

Russian Foreign Minister: US Military Must Leave All Of Syria

In a statement sure to raise tensions between Russia and the USA, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated on Thursday that US forces must leave all of Syria.

“Speaking to Interfax news agency on Thursday, Lavrov stated that the UN Security Council has not approved the work of the United States and its coalition in Syria, nor has been invited by the Syrian legitimate government.”

Of course, pulling out of Syria is not an option for the US.  With major operations against ISIS underway by the Kurdish majority SDF in the North and the US forces at Al-Tanf crossing there to protect Jordan from militants, the idea that the US will just up and leave is a non-starter.

Is Assad Legitimate?

Russia has for a while insisted that any long term presence of foreign troops must be in accordance with the legitimate government of Syria.  For Russia this means Assad.  The problem with this line of reasoning is that large areas of Syria are clearly not under his control.  This is does not refer to pockets of ISIS or Jihadists, but rather indigenous people such as the Kurds of Rojava or Arab Sunnis in the North. These groups along with ethnic Turkmen had been kept down by the minority Allawite regime for decades.

It would seem that any decisions on who gets to stay in Syria should be decided by the most democratic elements in the country.  That is, if you consider Syria an actual country at this point.  Syria, like many of its Arab counterparts across the Middle East are artificial creations that sprang into being after World War One.  given the fact, that Syria has been ruled by dictators for a good part of the last 100 years, it make sense why Russia would view this as trait to determine who is legitimate.  Afterall, Russia is currently ruled by an ex KGB chief who snuffs out opposition.  This point of commonality between Russia’s Putin and Syria’s Assad would be reason enough for the two to work together, but the truth is Russia doesn’t care about legitimacy just control over Syria in order to press against the West and drain energy from it while Russia pushes against Eastern Europe.

How Does this Affect Israel?

With the US not leaving Syria anytime soon and Russia digging in its heels throughout the country, the stage is set for a serious confrontation between the two super powers’ proxies.  Iran-Syria-Hezbollah forces will be used by Russia to push against the US proxies of Israel and the SDF.  This will be done under the Russian protective umbrella and threatens to spill out into a far greater war.

In the weeks ahead Israel and the Syrian regime will move beyond tit for tats and go directly against one another while the big powers push from behind.

Will Turkey’s Showdown in Afrin Split NATO?

Turkey has always had a complex relationship with the rest of its NATO partners, ut during the current Erdogan period it has grown exceedingly problematic.  With the weakening of US positions across he Middle East and Trump’s reliance on reliable indigenous allies to shoulder the ground burden against ISIS and Iran, Turkey sees its position falter.

The US has spent the past two years strengthening the Kurdish YPG dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Northern Syria by offering training, weapons, and logistics. The YPG/SDF are spread across five cantons that buttress Syria’s border with Turkey.

Turkey has always dealt poorly with the 20 million Kurds within their country, but has grown excessively weary about the Kurdish self-determination movements growing in Syria and Iraq.  Both of these movements are being funded more or less by the US, France, and Germany; all of whom double as fellow NATO members to Turkey.

Erdogan has grown despondent about the US role in building a future Kurdistan.

“We are greatly disappointed by the United States not keeping its promises. Many issues that we could have resolved easily…were pushed to a dead-end,” Erdogan said this past week.

Erdogan’s opposition to the US backing of the YPG in Syria is now seen as a threat to the NATO alliance itself. This makes Turkey’s assault on Kurdish positions in Afrin ground zero to see how Trump views Turkey’s future roll in NATO.  Afterall, the prevailing wisdom is that Turkey was behind much of the early growth of ISIS and used the chaos to push back on growing Kurdish autonomy.  With the narrative flipped, Turkey sees Afrin as an important litmus test on how far America will actually go to defend their proxy in Northern Syria.

“We need to cleanse Afrin of the structure there called the YPG terrorist organization,” Erdogan said.

Comparing the YPG to the notorious PKK, a long time enemy dof Turkey, might play well inside Turkey, but it does nothing to heal the divide between Turkey and the West.

Syrian Kurds and Turkey Exchange Fire Over Afrin

Turkish and Kurdish forces exchanged fire across the Afrin-Idlib border on Monday, according to several reports. No casualties have been reported.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights confirmed there was an exchange of fire between the sides. The organization stated that the YPG targeted Dar Ta izzah town and Turkey retaliated by launching fire into YPG-controlled Afrin canton.

The Observatory has also been reporting a steady increase of Turkish armored vehicles and soldiers entering the Afrin and Idlib areas as a preparation for a final assault on the Kurdish positions in Afrin. If Afrin were to fall to Turkey it would be the second Kurdish stronghold to fall to either Iran or Turkey in the past one and half months.

With the SDF offering the most stable option for a post war Syria, the US may have to forego its faltering relationship with Islamist Turkey in order to shore up a far more dependable ally it has found with the Kurds. If this happens, it may spell th end of Turkey’s membership in NATO.


The Growing Intersection Between Turkey, Trump, Kurdistan, and the Golan

The publication by Turkey of more than 200 US bases and places of presence across Western Kurdistan, now occupied by Syria drew the ire of the Trump administration and the US Defense establishment. The Turkish government went ahead and published this list and map in protest of the US policy in supporting the growing autonomy of Western Kurdistan (Northern Syria), which runs along the border of Turkey in Northern Syria.

“The discussion of specific troop numbers and locations would provide sensitive tactical information to the enemy which could endanger Coalition and partner forces,” wrote Col. Joe Scrocca, coalition director of public affairs.

“Publishing this type of information would be professionally irresponsible and we respectively [sic] request that you refrain from disseminating any information that would put Coalition lives in jeopardy.”

Turkey views the rise of an independent Kurdistan as a non-starter, unless it is contained to the KRG in Northern Iraq.  What is taking shape now though are two autnomous areas, which if joined would inspire Kurds living in Northern Kurdistan, occupied today by Turkey, to fight vigorously for their independence.

It is no secret that the US has ben aiding the YPG (Syrian Kurdish militias) and has rolled them into the broader Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), but the continued strengthening of this militia has crossed a red line for Erdogan.

Did Trump trade the Southwest of Syria for Western Kurdistan?

Despite the current opposition from Washington to the KRG’s drive towards a referendum on independence, the Trump administration still views the Kurds as the best avenue to push back on Iran and stablize the region. There is a four way tussle for Syria: Russia, Iran, Turkey, and the USA. Some of the sides work together and others don’t, but these four countries are busy establishing zones of control.

Up until the G-20 Ceasefire with Russia, it appeared that the USA and Russia were heading to a direct confrontation in the Southwestern part of Syria.  To offset this, the Russians backed Turkey’s assault on the indigenous Kurds to the North.  Putin hates Erdogan, but was ready to use him to battle Washington. The ceasefire changes things. With relative quiet in the Southwest, Putin can put the brakes on supporting Turkey’s assault against the Kurdish directed SDF.

Trump’s strategy here is clear. Consolodate the US gains in Western Kurdistan (Northern Syria), while letting Israel and Russia learn to work together in the Southwest. Trump now has a fighting force in Syria that is not only moderate, but is experienced in pushing back against ISIS and other Sunni radicals. More than that he pins Erdogan down, preventing the neo-Sultan from implementing his goals of expanding Turkey.

This strategy seems to benefit the US, but has been seen as dangerous by Israel due to the partnership between Russia and Iran. Given the propensity for Iran to utilize the Russian army as cover to move in on Israel, the tacit agreement with Russia is dangerous. Iran has already moved into the DMZ East of Israel’s Golan. With Hezbollah contantly infiltrating the Har Dov area in the Northern Golan, a similar presence to the East under the protection of Russian troops appears too much Israel to put up with.

With Hezbollah preparing for war, Israel is fast working to establish a deconfliction policy with Russia in the greater Golan area.

Kurdish National Council in Syria Condemns Turkey’s Threats of Invasion

As Turkey continues to build up it armed forces in the Kilis Triangle in preparation of an invation of Syrian Kurdistan, the Kurdish National Council of Syria responded to the increased Turkish shelling of Afrin, a Kurdish stronghold in North-West Syria.

“We at the Kurdish National Council (KNC), while we support any effort to combat extremism and terrorism in all its forms and names, we believe that such actions will not serve international efforts to combat it and will hinder efforts to eliminate terrorism,” the KNC said.

“We call for dialogue to resolve the differences and concerns of various parties by peaceful means and international guarantees and to not make Afrin an area to settle differences, the KNC said.

“We affirm our rejection to the logic of military threats and the illegality of Turkish attitude towards Afrin and call on them to focus on combating terrorism. We call on our Kurdish people and the Arabs who are united by their co-existence, not to be dragged into hostile conflicts and reject the Turkish adventure that will not benefit anyone, and lead to the shedding of more blood,” the Kurdish council said.

Turkey claims the Kurdish YPG, also known as the People’s Protection Units is really a terrorist entity and rejects its overwhelming numbers within the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) which is backed by the United States.

The Turkish government has said its recent military movements in northwest Syria are legitimate measures in response to attacks from the YPG forces in the Afrin region.

“This is not a declaration of war. We are making preparations against potential threats,” Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Numan Kurtulmus told the Reuters news agency on Wednesday. “It’s … a legitimate measure so that we can protect our independence. We cannot remain silent against those sending missiles from Afrin.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also said on Wednesday that Turkey was ready to carry out ground operations against the YPG if needed.

“If there is a threat against us, our troops will conduct any operations with the Free Syrian Army on the ground,” he told France 24 television.

With the threat of full scale invasion continuing to heat up the KRC has now appealed to their counterparts in the Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government (KRG) for help.

“We also appeal to the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq and its presidency to make efforts to urge Turkey not to continue this scheme, and we call on Kurds in foreign countries to denounce these threats and hold demonstrations and protests against it in accordance with the laws of these countries and to appeal to international and civilian organizations interested in relief and humanitarian affairs,” the KNC said. “Long live Afrin.”

According to Kurdish sources in the North, a full scale attack on the YPG by the Turkish government will throw off the US backed attack on the ISIS stronghold in Raqqa. There is some logic to this view in that the SDF will be forced to fight the Turkish army and ths pull back from Raqqa.

ISIS, Turkish Weapon

The origins of ISIS are complex and find themselves rooted in both old guard Baathist drive to retake Iraq as well a joint Obama and Erdogan creation whose purpose was to destablize the Middle East in order for Erdogan to bring a renewed Ottoman stability. Turkey was to take those areas West of the Euphrates and Iran to the East.  ISIS has been a tool of the Turkish armed forces and poltical elite since the beginning. With Raqqa on the ropes, the Kurds not only would be forced to pull back, but the chaos machine known as the Islamic State would live another day.  Turkey would get what it wants.  The ability to destroy the YPG/SDF and lend fuel to the weapon they originally created.

As I wrote earlier inthe week, Afrin is a test for the Trump administration.  Are they willing to push back against Erdogan or let the Kurds get destroyed, thus rendering their entire war against ISIS pointless?

CRISIS IN SYRIA: US Forces Shoot Down Syrian Warplane for the First Time

The Syrian conflict moved one step closer to all out war between the US and Syria/Iran/Russia as the US led coalition shot down a Syrian government Su-22 fighter near the town of Tabqa as it was caught bombing Syrian Democratic Forces, an umbrella group of Syrian Kurdish and Arab rebel forces. The SDF was fighting ISIS in the area in preparation for its upcoming battle to take Raqqa.



What’s Next?

The mission creep pushed by the American government is clear to everyone at this point.  What is not clear is whether the Trump administration is willing to put more than special forces on the ground.

The following three points should be looked out for in the coming week in reaction to the Coalition’s downing of the Syrian warplane:

  1. Retaliation against the US and Jordanian forces now in the South-East of Syria
  2. Hezbollah Attack on Israel
  3. Russian aiding Syria against the SDF and YPG in the North

The Trump administration’s policy is to use local forces to fight its ground wars while providing logistics and air support.  In the expanded Syrian war the world is now entering, this may not be an option anymore. For example, Israel has been slowly creating a buffer zone East of the Golan, but as Southern Syria falls to government troops, Israel may not be able to hold off from entering the war in a more direct manner.

Trump’s plan seems to have one foot in and one foot out of Syria.  That works when towing the line between the semi-isolationist stance he took when running and the need to have an effect on the outcome of the war.  However, Russia and Iran are not holding back and it is not clear for how long the YPG/SDF as well as Israel’s allies close to the Golan can hold them back.

The downing of the Syrian jet maybe the first response to the growing Russian/Syrian/Iranian juggernaut.