There is growing concern in the international peace community that the crisis in the Middle East if not rationally and tactfully handled by the global powers – the playing actors of the Middle East war theatre, the situation may reach at its zenith where peace would become a riddle of enigma in the region. The Middle East has been conditioned by outside forces into a powder keg that is ready to explode with the right trigger. As for the West, If Saudi Arabia and Turkey send their ground troops to Syria; a wider war in the Middle East could result in redrawn borders. But for the Russians, any such remaking of the Middle Eastern borders that could serve the Anglo-American-Israeli interests, would not be acceptable to Moscow.
So, a Russia-Iran alliance – which has de facto emerged – seems likely to be the most stable and long lasting. Although the two countries do not fully trust each other, they can find enough common ground to be partners rather than adversaries. Their strategic interests in Syria are not the same, but nor are they contradictory. Their combined military manpower –including resources from Iraq, which is now strongly influenced by Iran –and financial resources are sufficient to strengthen significantly Assad’s control over the country, even if they can’t completely destroy the Syrian opposition. While they might not be able to eliminate ISIS, they can reduce its influence in Syria and decrease the territory it holds.
The Kurdistan Factor
Having been predicted years ago and previously with much western backing – although now with possible Russian-Iranian support as well – it now looks like the time has come for “Kurdistan” to take on a heightened international role – even if sub-national across Syria, Turkey and Iraq. The Iraqi Peshmerga and Syrian-based Kurdish militias have been very successful in fighting against ISIL, and this has won them international approval from all forces except Turkey, which is fearful that this sizeable minority group – estimated to be around a quarter of the country’s population – may rebel against Ankara once more for increased rights, representation, and perhaps even autonomy or independence.
It was this fear, combined with Erdogan’s catastrophic electioneering efforts, that led to Turkey provoking the Kurds into restarting their military operations against the state, all with the intent of sparking a preplanned offensive to cripple that ethnic community. The resultant Turkish Civil War that followed and Erdoğan’s divisive efforts to split the transnational community by buying out their Iraqi counterparts will obviously be major factors in determining the legal status of transnational “Kurdistan” in the coming future.
The Turkey-Saudi Arabia Equation
While Ankara and Riyadh are deeply wary of acting without US consent, both are angry at what they see as US failure to take a more muscular stance against Moscow’s campaign to support the regime of Bashar Al-Assad.
Turkey, according to two senior western diplomats, wants to create a buffer zone across its border “several kilometres deep” that would allow Ankara to check the expansion of the Kurdish militias in Syria that are its primary concern.
Such a move would also provide potential breathing space to moderate Syrian opposition groups further south, currently under heavy attack from Russia and Assad’s forces. Turkey is thought unlikely to intervene directly without US consent. But it continues to funnel Syrian rebels through its territory onto the battleground. On 18 February 2016, several hundred fighters crossed the border close to Kurdish held areas, Syrian-based activists said.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia is concerned it is rapidly losing influence over the Syrian civil war and scope to influence any subsequent peace talks, as the leverage of its regional arch-rival, Iran, grows by the day.
The NATO- Russia Tussle
Despite the fact that there has been an agreement between Washington and Moscow regarding their involvement in Russia, there appears every iota of doubt that this understanding may not last longer. As the Syrian government is swiftly gaining control over the terrorists who have run rampant all across the country for the past five years, NATO and the GCC are kicking their provocations into high gear. Unfortunately, if NATO is prepared to go all the way in its goal to destroy the Syrian government, the rest of the world may find itself locked in the midst of a third world war.
Such a possibility is exactly what Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev warned about in an interview with German newspaper, Handelsblatt. When asked about the recent announcement by Saudi Arabia that the feudal monarchy is considering sending ground troops to Syria, Medvedev responded that “the Americans and our Arab partners must consider whether or not they want a permanent war”.
NATO-garrisoned Afghanistan has been successfully divided, all but in name. Animosity has been inseminated in the Levant, where a Palestinian civil war is being nurtured and divisions in Lebanon agitated. The Eastern Mediterranean has been successfully militarised by NATO.
Syria and Iran continue to be demonised by the western media, with a view to justifying a military agenda. In turn, the western media has fed, on a daily basis, incorrect and biased notions that the populations of Iraq cannot co-exist and that the conflict is not a war of occupation but a “civil war” characterised by domestic strife between Shiites, Sunnis and Kurds.
Attempts at intentionally creating animosity between the different ethno-cultural and religious groups of the Middle East have been systematic. In fact, they are part of a carefully designed covert intelligence agenda.
Even more ominous, many Middle Eastern governments, such as that of Saudi Arabia, are assisting Washington in fomenting divisions between Middle Eastern populations. The ultimate objective is to weaken the resistance movement against foreign occupation through a “divide and conquer strategy” which serves Anglo-American and Israeli interests in the broader region.
The Swinging Pendulum Towards Geopolitical Polarisation
The conflict is increasingly international, with Iran, Russia and Lebanon’s Hezbollah fighting to prop up the Al-Assad regime, while the opposition is backed by Turkey, the United States, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. ISIS and the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Al-Nusra Front are also “fighting” against Al-Assad.
“The relatively rapid internationalization of the Syrian conflict over the past few months is worsening the war,” says Elizabeth Prodromou, a visiting associate professor of conflict resolution at the Fletcher School. “Diplomacy is absolutely central to any sustainable, durable solution for the Syrian crisis,” she says.
There is also a knee-jerk, anti-US reaction inherent in Russia’s response to the Syrian conflict, especially given the sharp deterioration in Russia’s relations with the transatlantic alliance since the start of the conflict in Ukraine – in other words, whatever position the US takes, Russia will do the opposite. And from the geopolitical perspective, Russia’s involvement in Syria is also related to Moscow’s goal of maintaining permanent access to the deep water port of Tartus in Syria, helping to consolidate Russia’s presence in the Mediterranean –
In Syria, Iran and its Lebanese proxy, Hezbollah, have propped up Bashar Al-Assad’s embattled regime. Russia, too, supports Assad by conducting airstrikes on the regime’s enemies. This combined military assistance has tipped the balance in Assad’s favour in Syria’s civil war, which is approaching its sixth year. “The perception in the Middle East is that there is a Tehran-Damascus-Moscow axis in the face of which the United States is passive,” said Ryan Crocker, who served as the US Ambassador to Iraq under the George W. Bush administration.
“That is the charitable interpretation. The less charitable interpretation is that it is actually a Tehran-Damascus-Moscow-Washington axis, and that, by our inaction, we are, in effect, accomplices.”
The Russian Game Changer Strategy
Russia’s new best friends are Syria’s Kurds. Earlier this month, the “Rojava Democratic Self-Rule Administratio” proclaimed itself the new government in Kurdish-held northern Syria and opened its first overseas representative office, in Moscow. Meanwhile, 200 Russian military advisers have been deployed to the Kurdish-controlled town of Qamishli, next to the Turkish border, to secure a military airport for Russian use. That gives Russia a stronghold from which to strike Isis in northeast Syria and protect its new Kurdish friends from attack by Turkey.
A wider Kurdish-Russian pact could be a game-changer for Assad – but it also massively raises the risk of the Syrian conflict spilling over into a wider war. A deal between the Kurdish YPG militia and Damascus would deprive the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces – a coalition that includes Arab and Assyrian groups – of some of their most effective soldiers. It would also further confuse United States policy in Syria, since the Kurds have been Washington’s closest allies in the region for years.