Transitioning to a new Middle East

The changes in progress, including shifting alliances and the Israel Turkey deal, have far-reaching significance for the balance of power and achieving quiet in the area.

Ted Belman,

Ted Belman
Ted Belman
PR

The Obama era opened with his Cairo speech, in which he embraced Muslims in general and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular. He planned to depose the secular dictators and replace them with the Muslim Brotherhood. Thus Qaddafi, Mubarak and Assad were marked for removal in that order. The EU was on board.

After supporting the takeover of Egypt by the Muslim Brotherhood headed by Mohamed Morsi, he backed the takeover of Syria by the Muslim Brotherhood in collaboration with the newly Islamist Turkey, headed by Recep Tayyid Erdogan, extolling him as his best friend.

Simultaneously, beginning in 2009, he reached out to Iran.  He wanted to embrace it as an ally rather than to designate it as an enemy. His efforts culminated in the disastrous Iran Deal which provided a tail wind to Iran’s hegemonic ambitions. He overlooked the fact that Iran was a long standing ally of Assad’s and was fighting to resist his removal which was Obama’s stated goal.

Obama’s reach exceeded his grasp.

Libya, sans Qaddafi, is in chaos. The Egyptian military under Gen al Sisi is in power. He indicted Morsi for treason and banned  the Muslim Brotherhood again. Obama called this takeover of power a coup, thus preventing the US from supporting him. Russia  and Saudi Arabia have moved in to take up some of the slack.

Even though Turkey, the Gulf States and the Muslim Brotherhood shared his goal of removing Assad, they have not succeeded due entirely to Obama’s lack of leadership and unwillingness to fight.

His removal of the last of the US military forces in Iraq and his willingness to have Iran manage Iraq gave rise to ISIS. At first, Turkey and the Gulf states supported ISIS which was Sunni and was seen as a proxy to stop Iran expansionism and topple Assad. The US over time began to see ISIS as a bigger threat than Assad and started to support the Kurds, whom they originally shunned, so that they would fight ISIS. They did this even though Turkey was adamantly opposed.

Obama announced that if Assad used chemical weapons, that he would be crossing America’s red line. Rather than enforce that red line, he seized on a lifeline that Russia offered, namely, to work to remove the chemical weapons with the cooperation of Assad. This was a major turning point in the war as Russia proceeded to take on a greater role in the fighting with America’s blessings thereby enabling Syria to stabilize and go on the offensive.  Russia was not so much interested in defeating ISIS as they were in stabilizing Assad and taking back some territory.

Meanwhile Obama’s plan to have the Muslim Brotherhood with the backing of Turkey, replace Assad, is no longer operative. The Muslim Brotherhood as a player in Syria is no longer discussed, let alone active. Turkey, which started out with grandiose ambitions to recreate the Ottoman Empire and to assume the mantel of Sunni leadership, has abandoned such ambitions and is working to contain the self-inflicted damage its policies have caused.

Erdogan’s embrace of Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood has strained relations with Egypt where they are banned and actively fought.  Egypt is also partnering with Israel to neutralize and contain Hamas in Gaza and all insurgents in Sinai. His bellicose statements and actions regarding Cyprus have resulted in new alliance between it and Israel based on their mutual interest in defending and developing their new found gas reserves. Greece too has joined that alliance.

Erdogan has enraged the Russian bear by shooting down one of its fighter planes. As a result Russia has imposed sanctions on Turkey and is supporting the Kurds who are an anathema to Turkey.

Erdogan started out trying to reconcile with Turkey’s Kurdish population but ended up fighting them instead, in addition to fighting the Syrian Kurds whom the US is supporting. Along the way, the Turks alienated ISIS whom they were supporting. Now both ISIS and the Turkish Kurds are committing terrorist atrocities against them.

All this is transitioning to a new Middle East.

A week ago Israel and Turkey signed a Reconciliation Agreement with Turkey after 6 years of negotiations. Turkey had ruptured relations in reaction to the killing in self-defense by the IDF of 10 Turks on the Mavi Marmara ship which had sailed from Turkey intending to violate Israel’s legal blockade of Gaza. The broader context was that Turkey wanted to champion the Arab fight against Israel as a means to be seen by Arabs as their standard bearer. To their chagrin the UN Panel on the incident, found that Israel had the legal right to impose a blockade and she did it in the right way. This took the wind out of Turkey’s sails.

This agreement was rejected by 65% of Israeli Jews and endorsed by 24%. Those who rejected it did so primarily because Israel was faultless in the matter yet agreed to pay $21 million to a compensation fund for the families of the dead attackers set up by Turkey. The humiliation was too much to bear.  In addition Turkey is no longer a friend of the west. It supports the Muslim Brotherhood, Hamas and to some extent ISIS and Israel shouldn’t pretend otherwise.

Nevertheless the Israeli government saw it otherwise when its security cabinet voted in favour 7 to 3.  Even those who voted against, namely Avigdor Lieberman, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, simply recorded their no vote but did not lead any battle against the deal.  Did the government know something that the public didn’t know? Seems like it.

The agreement paves the way for Israel and Turkey to negotiate an energy deal in which Israel sells a huge quantity of gas to Turkey for many years for local consumption and for transport to Europe for its consumption. Enabling this deal was extremely important for Israel as the cost of building a pipeline to Greece, as opposed to Turkey, was economically prohibitive. This deal will result in reducing the energy dependence by Turkey and Europe on Russian energy. One would have thought that Russia would object to such a deal, yet Russia urged Israel to conclude it. Obviously something is in it for Russia.

Hurriyet News reported on July 4/16:

“The diversification of gas resources for Turkey and the EU means less gas being bought from Russia. Every cubic meter to be bought from Israeli and Cypriot fields (and Egyptian, too) would be subtracted from Russian exports. On the other hand, if Turco-Russian normalization process proceeds further, the Russians could reactivate the new South Stream project to sell gas to EU markets via another pipeline through Turkey and the Turkish economic zone in the Black Sea, in order to meet the increasing demand in Europe.”

Apparently it is to be viewed as one of a series of reconciliation agreements that are in the works, namely, between Turkey and Russia. Turkey has already apologized and offered compensation. Further negotiations are taking place regarding Syria and the Kurds. Egypt and Turkey.

Unfortunately, Erdogan just gave a speech in which he said that a thaw with Egypt's "oppressive regime" should not be expected any time soon. What bothers him is El Sisi’s fight against the Muslim Brotherhood and against Morsi. Nevertheless reconciliation will take place. It will be modeled after the reconciliation with Israel.

Turkey is committed not to let Hamas act against Israel from its soil and, by the same token, not to permit Hamas’s parent and El-Sisi’s arch enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood, operate from Turkey. Turkey will content itself with paying lip service to the Muslim Brotherhood just as it has contented itself with paying lip service only to Hamas. Israel, as an ally of Egypt’s will work to bring this about.

Turkey and Cyprus? The Guardian reports that both the US and Turkey have confirmed that reconciliation talks are proceeding and that a settlement could be reached by the end of the year

Meanwhile, Jordan is quietly dismantling the Muslim Brotherhood’s organization in Jordan.

DEBKA reports:

“It fits neatly into the current joint Saudi-Egyptian bid for Israel to bolster their emerging alliance with Turkey that is designed for drawing a Sunni line against Iran’s expansionist moves in the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea, the Straits of Aqaba and in uncomfortable proximity to the Mediterranean shores of Israel and Egypt.”

Netanyahu said of the deal in a conversation with Sec. Kerry, “I think it’s an important step here to normalize relations on one side. It has also immense implications for the Israeli economy… and I mean positive immense implications.”

Debka reports (June 27/16) two motivating elements giving rise to the reconciliation agreements between Turkey and Russia and Turkey and Israel.

”Israel is in need of a major client to boost the development of its offshore gas fields, whereas Turkey wants to be that client and, at the same time, Russia is after a piece of the energy bonanza and most of all a contract to build the pipeline to Europe.

“On the table now is Israeli-Turkish-Russian military and intelligence collaboration for securing the Israeli offshore gas in the Mediterranean – a prospect that brought the Turkish president to finally apologize for his air force downing a Russian Su-24M bomber over the Syrian-Turkish border on Nov. 24, 2015. “

In addtition, it reports,

“It fits neatly into the current joint Saudi-Egyptian bid for Israel to bolster their emerging alliance with Turkey that is designed for drawing a Sunni line against Iran’s expansionist moves in the Horn of Africa, the Red Sea, the Straits of Aqaba and in uncomfortable proximity to the Mediterranean shores of Israel and Egypt.”

Turkey is also desperately in need of Israel’s assistance in fighting terrorism.

Globes published an article in April 2016 in which it argued “Gazprom's interest in Israeli gas reservoir Leviathan is a strategic issue for Russian President Vladimir Putin”.  While there are advantages to such a deal, Israel is concerned that Russia will seek to prevent the gas from going to Turkey.  Noble Energy, one of the partners in the field, prefers a western group as a partner and the US, no doubt will not be happy with Russian involvement in the eastern Mediterranean.“

There is now talk of a Russia/Israel/Turkey Alliance that would dominate the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Egypt's foreign minister has visited Israel, perhaps in an attempt to be part of the group.


Obama's reach exceeded his grasp.
Zvi Bar’el writing in Haaretz on July 2/16, notes that Turkey’s simultaneous reconciliation agreements with Russia and Israel provide a rare chance to design a new Middle Eastern policy.

“Reconciliation with Russia only bolstered the feeling in Iran that Russia could join Turkey in demanding the ouster of Syrian President Bashar Assad and replacing Iran on the Syrian front.

“Iran and Russia do not see eye to eye on how to conduct the war in Syria. While Iran wants to complete the conquest of Aleppo, Russia has made clear that such a conquest cannot be expected any time soon. Russia’s ambassador in Damascus stated as much in an interview with the Russian News Agency Interfax, explaining that he does not expect an assault on Aleppo or Raqqah (the ISIS capital in Syria) in the near future.”

Thus both Assad and Iran could get their marching orders. Such an event would leave Hezbollah high and dry. Certainly Israel would be in favour of this.

“The Kurds in Syria fear that rejuvenated ties between Turkey, Russia and Israel could compromise the assistance they are receiving from Russia and could establish a combined Israeli, Russian and Turkish aerial umbrella against an independent Kurdish entity in Syria.”

The Syrian Kurds, with US assistance, are fighting to create territorial contiguity from the Iraqi border to the main Syrian port city of Latakia in the west.

That is Turkey’s nightmare scenario, which it might now be able to prevent if it persuades Russia to thwart American plans.” says Bar’el.

For my part, I believe that Russia and Israel will continue to support Kurdish independence and that it is Turkey who will have to learn to live with it.  In the long run, Turkey will have to give into the demands of its Kurdish population to avoid their attacks and ultimately to keep them satisfied to remain in Turkey.

Ms. Aydintasbas, a fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, wrote in the Wall Street Journal this week, after discussing Turkey’s plight,

“Turkey should support the idea of a Kurdish belt on its southern borders, grandfather a Kurdish zone, isolate itself from the instability in Iraq and Syria, and return to the peace talks at home. With nearly 20% of its population being Kurds, Mr. Erdogan’s anti-Kurdish policy in Syria aggravates the insurgency at home.”

Giancarlo Elia Valori, an  Italian industrialist and honorary member of the Academy of Science of the Institut de France in an article published in the Russian Insider on June 15explored the growing alliance between Russia and Israel,

“During Netanyahu’s visit to Russia on April 21, 2016, for example, the Israeli Prime Minister and the Russian President pointed out Russia’s interest in developing and exploiting the new offshore natural gas field known as Leviathan, which will be the real “game changer” in the Middle East in the near future. If GazProm cooperates in the exploitation and marketing of the offshore gas field between Haifa and the Gaza Strip, it will be vital for the Russian Federation to ensure – along with Israel – security of communications, particularly in relation to possible Hezbollah actions from Lebanon or Iranian pressure on the Golan.

“This new energy system will finally transform relations between Israel and Turkey, which will be the hub of the natural gas extracted from the Leviathan field, and enable Russian oil and gas companies to enter the Middle East market, excluding US companies operating in Turkey and in most of the Sunni world. It is worth recalling that both Iran and Qatar now operate mainly on the natural gas market, and the large Israeli Leviathan gas field could give many of the fiercest Muslim, Shiite or Sunni opponents of the Jewish State pause.”

“Finally, Israel, jointly with the Russian Federation, will be able to project globally. In the future, there will be a place for Israel in the Chinese One-Belt, One-Road Initiative in Central Asia, in India, even in Latin America and in some African areas. All areas now in the Russian and Chinese strategic area.”

What is needed to usher in this new Middle East is for the following to happen as discussed above.

-Turkey must abandon its fight with the Kurds and make peace with them.

-Turkey must reconcile with Egypt by reducing support for the Muslim Brotherhood.

-Turkey must finalize their reconciliation with Cyprus

-Russia must send Assad and Iran packing along with their support of Hezbollah

-A federated Syria to be created to include autonomous areas for the Alawites, the Kurds and the Sunni. The latter two may choose instead to amalgamate with their Iraq counterparts.

None of this, conflicts with American policy and actions nor with the desires of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states. It's the way to go.


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