Turkish press suggests negotiations with Assad

Moscow thinks that it is time for promoting Ankara-Damascus rapprochement

Turkish press debates plots’ in Syria, ties with USA and Russia

Erdogan-Assad conflict

The following is a selection of quotes from editorials and commentaries published in 22 February 2018 editions of Turkish newspapers available to BBC Monitoring:

‘Negotiation with Assad ‘

Hurriyet (mainstream): “There are two main axes when it comes to Syria: The first axis is the America-[Kurdish People’s Protection Units] YPG-[outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party] PKK axis. The second axis is the Russia-Iran-[Surian President Bashar al-] Assad axis … Turkey stands a long way from the first axis. Because there is PKK there. It also stands a long way from the second axis. Because there is Assad there. Thus, Turkey is neither fully inside nor outside these axes. It is exactly for this reason I have started to find those who say ‘Negotiate with Assad” right.” (Commentary by Ahmet Hakan)

Yeni Safak (pro-government conservative): “After secret negotiations between the Assad regime and the terrorist organisations, the rumour that Afrin would be handed over to the Damascus [administration] so intensified that it triggered a series of diplomatic contacts. Because the opening of such a door could only take place with the will of Russia, which could have twisted the edges of the Ankara-Moscow-Tehran triangle. Even if Turkey has such a suspicion, while I am writing these lines, the ‘expected’ development did not happen. However, it feels that Moscow thinks that the conditions for promoting Ankara-Damascus rapprochement have grown ripe. We can see it from the statements by [Russian] Foreign Minister Lavrov, who said ‘Turkey’s security interests can be protected by means of direct dialogue with Damascus’ and major player Mikhail Bogdanov, who suggested said they are ready for mediation’.” (Commentary by Hayrettin Karaman)

Sabah (pro-government): “Iran is our neighbour and we want it to remain so. But this neighbour is a neighbour who has dragged the region into a sectarian swamp. […] True, the USA supports the PYD-PKK, shamelessly. And right, Russia is doing us a great favour by opening the air space. But at the same time, the same Russia can close the air space if it wants. It supports the Syrian army, Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Hezbollah against the [Turkish Armed Forces] TSK in Idlib. [Russia] also does not close the PYD [Democratic Union party] office in Moscow […] Are those who say ‘Let us agree with Assad and [thus] defeat the PYD’ not aware of these facts? It is no one else but the [Assad] regime itself that, since the very start of the Olive Branch Operation, has been transferring the YPG’s elements and arms to Afrin. Turkey seems to be warring with the YPG/PKK, but, as a matter of fact, it is faced with the USA, Russia, Iran as well as the Damascus regime.” (Commentary by Nihal Bengisu Karaca)

Evrensel (leftist): “If the Afrin operation continues the risk of coming face to face, if not directly with Russia, but with the Syrian army, which is supported by Russia, is growing. On the other hand, the possibility of a military operation against the east of the Euphrates, where Kurds are politically and militarily concentrated, is rather weak. Although official statements and media suggest that it is ‘within probability’, without mentioning the east of the Euphrates, we even have to agree an operation against Manbij with the USA. In short, even if Kurds withdraw from Afrin, they will continue to protect their presence in the west of the Euphrates and secure place at the [negotiating] table in Syria. At the same time, until such vital details, such as the limits of Turkey’s Afrin operation, its ultimate goal, depth, and the end time becomes clear, the future and gains of the operation will change depending on the moves taken by other actors in the field.” (Commentary by Hediye Levent)

Milliyet (pro-government): “… It is clear that today things in the USA go the way the Pentagon want, especially, with regard to the support given to the terrorist organisation YPG/PKK which is the reason for the tension between Turkey and the USA. In other words, the USA is run by generals. President Trump does whatever the generals say. This is why there is war, conflict and blood at the core of today’s [American] policies. Moreover, [American] soldiers, those sitting in their chairs and those on the field both with their words and images with terrorists [photos from Syria] are overtly fuelling this situation and Turkey animosity. This is despite the fact that the US Secretary of State voiced an opposite opinion.” (Commentary by Tunca Bengin)
Source: Quotes package from BBC Monitoring in Turkish 1135 gmt. February 22, 2018
©2018 The British Broadcasting Corporation. All Rights Reserved.


Turkey and Iran face off in a new battle in Syria

Syria’s messy war is becoming even messier. On Tuesday, pro-regime militias reportedly moved into the embattled enclave of Afrin, which is under siege from Turkish forces who invaded Syria last month. The regime units appeared to be reinforcing Syrian Kurdish factions that have controlled the area near the Turkish border, much to the frustration of Ankara.

As I wrote during the early days of the Turkish incursion, the battles in Afrin risk a wider conflagration. The main Syrian Kurdish armed group, known as the YPG, is seen by Turkey as a direct proxy of the outlawed Kurdistan Worker’s Party, or PKK, which operates inside Turkey and is considered a terrorist organization by Ankara and Washington. But the United States supports the YPG, depending on its fighters to help combat the jihadist Islamic State. Washington’s complicated role in the war — as well as its decision to avoid becoming deeply involved in the clashes in Afrin — compelled the Syrian Kurdish militias to turn to President Bashar al-Assad for help.

“The Syrian government responded to the call of duty and sent military units on Tuesday, and they will be positioned along the border and take part in defending the unity and border of the Syrian territory,” YPG spokesman Nouri Mahmoud told reporters Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey would begin a heavy assault on the city center of Afrin in coming days. He described the Syrian government’s move as the work of “terrorists” and claimed Turkish artillery had driven the pro-Assad forces back. Syrian sources claim that the barrage only briefly stalled the advance of the pro-Assad forces.

The convoy’s arrival is yet another geopolitical twist in a war that is growing ever more complicated. The pro-Assad militias that supposedly came to the Syrian Kurds’ rescue probably had another set of allegiances: “The fighters arriving … appeared to be from a network of Iran-backed units that have often bolstered the efforts of Assad’s military,” my colleague Louisa Loveluck reported.

If that is the case, we are seeing Turkey and its rebel allies potentially squaring off against pro-Assad militias that are linked to Iran and are operating in tandem with Syrian Kurdish units friendly with the United States — which opposes both the Assad government and Iran’s presence in Syria. It is the sort of bewildering entanglement that characterizes the ruinous seven-year conflict, its constellation of warring parties and their tangled sets of interests.

From the Iranian perspective, the Turkish operation in Afrin was unwelcome. Iranian leaders, including President Hassan Rouhani, denounced the invasion, which soured recent talks held between Russia, Turkey and Iran over Syria’s political future. According to the Middle East affairs website Al-Monitor, Iranian officials have pressed their Turkish counterparts to avoid a messy war of attrition in Syria.

“Turkey hoped that it would move into Afrin and its … partners would look the other way. Ankara thought it got its wish when Russia, which controls the skies over Afrin, finally gave the green light to the Turkish military incursion into the Kurdish enclave,” wrote Gonul Tol, a fellow at the Middle East Institute in Washington. “But the recent developments on the ground suggest the way forward might not be as smooth and the partnership with Russia and Iran might not be as strong as Ankara had hoped.”

Outside Afrin, the Syrian chessboard is no less crowded. Rebel Islamist groups in nearby Idlib province are battling each other while also partnering with Turkish forces against the Syrian regime and its allies. The American air war in Syria, primarily directed at the Islamic State, has also led to the deaths of Russian mercenaries. The Assad government, with Russian support, continues to mercilessly pound rebel-held areas. And Israel, alarmed at Iran’s entrenched presence in Syria, recently carried out airstrikes on suspected Iranian positions. Israeli officials openly talk about the prospect of entering a more intense regional war.

The hard reality for Ankara is that Turkey has few good options. Rising anti-American sentiment in Turkey, combined with U.S. support for the YPG, has placed the United States somewhat at odds with its NATO ally. No one else looks poised to step in. “Neither Russia nor Iran — both of whom Turkish politicians sometimes tout as potential replacements for the United States — seem terribly eager to accommodate Turkish interests,” wrote Nicholas Danforth, a Turkey expert at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington.

Indeed, there is a growing chorus in Washington to stop accommodating Ankara’s agenda. “Nobody wants a violent rupture with Turkey,” wrote Washington Post columnist David Ignatius. “But seven years into the catastrophic Syrian war, observers need to admit some ground truths: The Turks allowed thousands of foreign radical Islamists to flow into Syria and create bases from which they threatened Europe and the United States; these terrorists would still be in their capital of Raqqa, planning attacks, if the United States hadn’t partnered with the Kurdish-led … militia that Turkey hates so much.”

For the Americans, too, a tough road lies ahead. “Washington’s ability to shape developments in regime-held Syria is admittedly weak,” wrote Mona Yacoubian, a senior policy scholar at the United States Institute of Peace. “While Assad remains in power, perhaps the best the United States can hope for is to keep countering the regime’s egregious behavior without further inflaming the conflict.”

But that means reckoning with a regime that is still guilty of slaughtering scores of its own people. On Tuesday, as the battle for Afrin intensified, the regime pummeled the rebel-held Damascus suburb of East Ghouta, killing more than 100 people in what aid agencies described as one of the bloodiest 24 hours of the Syrian war. UNICEF issued a communique with a large blank space, stating that “no words will do justice to the children killed.” It was yet another cry of exasperation and despair in a conflict that is still finding new depths of cruelty to plumb.
Source: by Ishaan Tharoor, Washington Post.com, February 21,  2018
© Copyright 2018, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

Bringing Qatar into the fold

“I wanted to persuade the Qataris that they could play a more positive role on the Palestinian issue and stop helping Hamas.”

There are not too many Orthodox Jews who have been to both the United Arab Emirates and Qatar, let alone been welcomed as a guest of the government in both Persian Gulf States.

I received criticism for visiting Qatar, as have other American Jewish leaders who have gone there recently, even though most of them have either withheld judgment or criticized Qatar upon their return.

I accepted the invitation, because I wanted to persuade the Qataris that they could play a more positive role on the Palestinian issue and stop helping Hamas.

I wanted to hear their side of the story. Perhaps their negative image was unjustified. I was dubious about Qatar being different than any of the other Arab states. Intuitively, I thought none of them could be trusted and that Qatar could be no worse than Saudi Arabia.

My visit to the UAE came last week, along with other Jewish leaders from the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, though I arrived a few days earlier to explore the emirates.

Visiting both countries in a short period gave me perspective that I believe could have an influence on Qatar, which is striving to improve its image in the world, especially among American decision-makers.

Qatar and the UAE have many similarities and many key differences.

They are both small former British colonies that in a short period built themselves up into technologically super-advanced, massively wealthy, family-run sheikhdoms, thanks to their vast natural resources. Both have increasingly influential economies diversifying away from oil. In both, native citizens are less than 10% of the total population.

And both are currently investing heavily in re-branding themselves for the US in general and the Trump administration in particular, in high-stakes campaigns that have attracted attention and controversy.

The UAE has succeeded in that goal, developing close relations with American governments from both parties, deepening military ties, expanding trade with the US to $26 billion, and building its most populous city, Dubai, into a financial metropolis with a skyline that reminded me of Manhattan. The UAE is also a close ally of Saudi Arabia, and together they are waging an active war with Iran’s Houthi proxy in Yemen.

Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, called MbZ, is UAE’s crown prince and deputy supreme commander of its armed forces. He is seen as the driving force behind the UAE’s activist foreign policy, promoting diversity and tolerance, shunning radicalization and deepening close ties with his Saudi and American counterparts, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman and Jared Kushner.

In dialogue with our interlocutors in Abu Dhabi, it became clear that – with rare exceptions – the UAE is doing its part to be a positive force in the Middle East. But the UAE needs its Saudi allies to do their part as a regional force and lead efforts against Iran and its terrorist proxies.

Qatar’s progress in winning over America has been slower. US President Donald Trump called Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani last month to thank him for helping fight terrorism. By hosting an American air base (built after the US was asked to leave Saudi Arabia) with fighter jets used for air strikes on Islamic State, Qatar can rightfully say it hosts the US fight on terrorism.

But unfortunately, Qatar also remains a safe haven for some of the world’s terrorist groups, harboring Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and others. It is not doing enough to pressure Hamas to release Israeli captives, dead and alive.

The Al-Jazeera network is based in the Qatari capital Doha, and its biased and problematic coverage does not advance the cause of Middle East peace, to put it mildly. For those reasons and more there has been such an outcry over the visits to Qatar.

Qatar justifies its behavior by noting that its sovereignty and even its existence is threatened by the Iranians, Saudis and the Emirates. It explains that it must get along with Iran, because it shares lucrative gas fields with the Islamic Republic.

But the Qataris must realize that their long-term strategic interests require shunning Iran, fighting the terrorism emanating from the Islamic Republic and seeking a full alliance with the US. After all, Iran’s primary goal is to defeat all Sunni states and control the world, and when it tries to exercise that plan, due to its proximity, Qatar will be among its first targets.

They can look to the UAE and see the benefits their neighbor has received from fighting alongside the US and never against it in all operations throughout the Middle East. The UAE was even willing to make sacrifices for their alliance, starting the process of stopping trade with Iran and losing business deals there to Turkey.

Among the steps that could help Qatar win over America would be to adopt a policy of not tolerating any terrorism, work behind the scenes with the US against Iran, pressure the Palestinians to return to the negotiating table under American mediation, and provide humanitarian assistance to Gaza through Israel and aid organizations to ensure it really reaches the people and is not stolen by Hamas.

As all American allies in the region should, Qatar could fund educational initiatives that encourage tolerance, end incitement to terrorism, promote human rights, and even use Al-Jazeera to promote the positive messages that the Middle East needs today.

None of America’s current and potential allies are perfect. They could all do more.

The Trump administration should also do its part to unify the Gulf states against terrorism, because for the war on terrorism to succeed there cannot be any outliers. There must be complete unity.

The author is the co-president of the Religious Zionists of America and chairman of the Center for Righteousness and Integrity. He can be reached at martinoliner@gmail.com.
Source: by Martin Oliner, Jpost.com, February 21,  2018
© 2018, Jpost.com. All rights Reserved.

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