With all eyes on “Israel”, it still remains the case that Turkey is the proverbial ‘wild card’ in the Syria conflict. As geopolitical expert Andrew Korybko wrote yesterday in Eurasia Future,
“Russia may feel uncomfortable about what “Israel” has just done in Syria, but it’s been passively facilitating such strikes for the past 2,5 years in an attempt to “balance” regional affairs per the “19th-Century Great Power Chessboard” paradigm, particularly as it relates to limiting Iran’s post-Daesh role in Syria.
Moscow’s silence every other time that this happened points to at least tacit approval of Tel Aviv’s actions or even clandestine coordination at times, because as the saying goes, “words are cheap”, and while it couldn’t have hurt Russia’s soft power to at least rhetorically condemn all of “Israel’s” previous bombings, Moscow still abstained from doing so.
What Russia didn’t expect, however, was that Syria would ever succeed in shooting down an “Israeli” jet, as it’s for Moscow’s aversion to this very same scenario that it has hitherto held off on selling top-notch anti-air missile systems to Damascus and has clearly reaffirmed on multiple occasions that its in-country military mandate does not include protecting Syria’s airspace from any foreign air force, whether American, “Israeli”, or Turkish.
This implies that Russia did not in fact provide Syria with the directive to shoot down the “Israeli” jet, nor would it have ever approved of such an action if it was previously informed, thus debunking the “populist” claims that Moscow gave the green light to Damascus to carry out this prominent act of self-defense”.
Thus, while Syria and the wider Resistance have been engaged in much deserved celebrations for downing an enemy aircraft by the most aggressive regime in the world, the wider regional and geopolitical balance of power has not fundamentally shifted. Perhaps “Israel” will think twice about attacking Syria in the near future and perhaps likewise, Syria and its partners will be all the more confident to take firm self-defence measures if attacked on this front. But beyond this, the balance of power has not changed, except for the fact that an official close to the leader of the Zionist regime, has more or less acknowledged that it is Russia rather than the US which controls the regional balance of power. While not a revelation, this is still a notable acknowledgement of reality from a highly pro-US but still Russia friendly Tel Aviv.
The only thing that can realistically change the balance of power in and around the Syria conflict, is Turkey’s position. While it is unlikely that Turkey will ever pivot back to a pro-US position, in spite of its lingering NATO membership, it remains likely that Turkey could pivot further away from the US because of the fact that Ankara remains completely at odds with Washington over the latter’s refusal to pull back the reigns on its Kurdish proxy forces.
Turkey’s powerful Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has just said,
“Ties with the U.S. are at very critical point. We will either fix these relations or they will break completely”.
Cavusoglu also stated,
“The U.S. is not touching Daesh members in Syria as an excuse to continue working with YPG/PKK terrorist group”.
This last statement is fully inline with Damascus’ position that the US has not done any significant fighting against Daesh in Syria. Furthermore, both of these statements come before what can only be described as an “emergency summit” between the Turkish leadership and the US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as well as America’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster. Both the Turkish and American side have set the bar very low for this week’s talks, with Tillerson admitting that things are “tough” in respect of relations with Ankara.
The best that could be achieved during the meetings in Turkey is damage control. The US has made it clear through its actions, that it has no intentions of giving up its Kurdish proxies in Syria and since no other proxy force in the region is available to the US in such numbers as the Kurdish YPG/PKK, it is not difficult to see why the US is not going to trade something for nothing. For Turkey, even more angering than continued US support for Kurdish militants/terrorists, is the fact that the US has broken multiple promises to Ankara, including cutting off weapons and other aid to the YPG. This also includes a personal promise Donald Trump made to Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s President, which Turkey publicly called a lie, shortly after it was made. Therefore, when Turkish authorities talk about a breakdown in trust, they are speaking with sincerity. The US has told Turkey it will change its YPG stance, but it has not done so. Likewise, any US attempts to paint YPG militants calling themselves SDF different from YPG militants fighting with YPG or PKK insignia, is a moot point. Turkey knows, as everyone else in the conflict knows, that such a distinction is meaningless. All of this comes as Turkey suspects that it is US weapons in the hands of YPG terrorists which have resulted in the deaths of Turkish soldiers in northern Syria.
When in Turkey, Tillerson and McMaster may try to rationalise US-YPG relations saying that these relations only occur in regions of Syria that don’t effect Turkish security. However, Turkey has heard similar things before and has not accepted them as valid – and with good reason, as the logic of YPG forces anywhere near Turkey’s borders, would dictate that the US rationalisation for such a phenomenon is preposterous.
With this in mind, the best the US can offer Turkey is some sort of compromise based on high level horse trading, although it is not clear just what the US could offer Turkey. With Washington refusing to withdraw from areas around Manbij, where Ankara promises to continue its anti-YPG Operation Olive Branch and with the US clearly unwilling to drop its Kurdish proxies, it would seem that the US has little to offer Turkey. Of course, the US could offer Turkey the extradition of wanted terrorist Fethullah Gulen who is currently exiled in the United States, but this too seems unlikely, not least because even the extradition of Gulen might not be enough to convince Turkey to cease its operation against the YPG.
Because of this, it is not difficult to see why both sides are speaking as if the other side is a brick wall. Turkey and the US will likely soothe very short term tensions due to the high level nature of the forthcoming meetings, but after a week or even in a matter of days, things will likely return to business as usual. For Turkey this means a further pivot away from the US and towards both Russia and Iran whose Astana format has withstood a propaganda onslaught from the powerful “alt-media” communities in all three states. Meanwhile, Turkey and the United States who once had an almost air-tight alliance (certainly by regional standards) are slipping further and further into rival territory.
The Syrian victory against “Israel” certainly did provide a much needed short term boost of morale, but it will ultimately be Turkey’s efforts to isolate the US that will be crucial to convincing the US that its race in Syria has been run and lost.