Israel’s Role in Delaying Turkish-US Anti-Terror Cooperation in Manbij

In May of this year, Turkey and the United States reached an agreement to jointly patrol and eradicate terrorists in the northern Syrian city of Manbij which for two years has been occupied by the YPG/PKK terror organisation. There is only one problem with the agreement: the United States is openly allied with, funding and arming the YPG/PKK throughout eastern Syria.

That being said, as Manbij is effectively the central point dividing parts of Syria under the occupation of US troops and areas in the north west being patrolled by Turkey in accordance with the de-escalation agreements of the Astana partnership of Russia, Iran and Turkey (which have incidentally been approved by Damascus). Because of Manbij’s central location in this respect, the thinking behind the May agreement for joint US-Turkish cooperation was to assure Turkey’s safety from YPG/PKK threats near its southern border while also addressing the issues of Kurdish ethnic extremists discriminating against the Arab majority in Manbij which for years has lived under the whip hand of an ethno-centric terror group.

Ideally, the US would have compromised with Turkey over Manbij as any US official with knowledge of the ethnic demographics of the region as well as a knowledge of the history of the PKK using northern Syria as a launching place for attacks against the Turkish people, ought to have been understanding of the grave concerns of Washington’s long time NATO partner.

Instead, the US appears to have placed its relationship (however temporary) with the YPG/PKK over its commitment to the nation which has the largest armed forces in NATO after the United States. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned of the imminent collapse of the Manbij deal with the US, stating,

“There is a delay but (the deal) is not completely dead. US Secretary of State Pompeo and Defence Secretary Mattis say they will take concrete steps”.

Because of the long delay in implementing the deal, Erdogan’s words that the deal is ‘not dead yet’ appear to be in the spirit of the English comedians Monty Python who famously recorded a scene in which an ailing man insists that he is not dead.

While like the character in the comic film, the Manbij deal is technically “not dead yet”, it is certainly dying due to US procrastination that appears to be motivated by the overall trend of anti-Turkish sentiments among irresponsible policy makers in Washington.

In invoking the names of US Defense Secretary Mattis and Secretary of State Pompeo, President Erdogan has in fact named two members of Donald Trump’s cabinet that appear to take a realistic view on the importance of good Turkey-US relations. That being said, many others surrounding Trump including the apparently anti-Turkish Vice President Mike Pence and the lame-duck US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley who clearly has no understanding of Turkey’a manifold international relations, appear to have been utterly seduced the anti-Turkish alliance that has already formed among some of the political elite of America.

To understand the movers behind the growing anti-Turkish sentiments in the US, one must understand how traditionally anti-Turkish lobbying groups in America are now teaming up with the highly influential Israel lobby to sow a reckless Turkophobic narrative in the United States.

It is not only in the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean where Israel has taken up common positions with Turkey’s adversaries. In the United States, the powerful Israel lobby has joined forces with the comparatively smaller but still influential US based Hellenic and Armenian lobbies to protest the sale of US made F-35 jets to Ankara.  This demonstrates that unlike in the past where the US Israel lobby did not try to antagonise Turkey, in 2018, it is willing to team up with lobbies whose primary objective is to promote grievances against Turkey.

Against this background, it is perhaps not surprising that Gilad Erdan, a member of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud faction has called for Tel Aviv to recognise the events of 1915 as an “Armenian Genocide”. If Israel were to officially to do this, it would represent a clear break between Tel Aviv and Ankara and quite possibly a point of no return. The more Turkey stands up for Palestine, the more voices like those of Erdan will become amplified in arguing for a move that is less about Armenia (a traditionally anti-Zionist nation) than about sending a clear message to Turkey that the partnership has run its course.

The economic realities that have held Turkey and Israel together against great odds during the Erdogan/Netanyahu years, are rapidly unravelling. As Tel Aviv pivots its energy and commercial needs towards Greece, Cyprus, Egypt and Italy and with Israel engaging in ever closer security cooperation with the Hellenic members of the EU, all the while openly supporting Kurdish ethno-nationalism in the Middle East, it is becoming apparent that the once unthinkable question of a long term schism between Ankara and Tel Aviv may now be inevitable.

Therefore, when it comes to understanding the dynamics of America’s seemingly incoherent policies towards its traditional Turkish partner, one should look no further than the division between foreign policy realists and US foreign policy makers who are enraptured with pleasing the Israel lobby. While Mattis and Pompeo as the Turkish President indicated, represent the more realistic (by US standards) wing of Washington, Mike Pence, Nikki Haley, Steve Bannon (who remains influential even outside the White House), and John Bolton (in spite of his past statements against the PKK) clearly appear willing to sacrifice the historic good will between Ankara and Washington now that Israel’s relations with Turkey have plummeted.

As Netanyahu has publicly endorsed the YPG/PKK’s formation of an illegal “state” in the region, it is not difficult to connect the dots between the “Israel first” factions in Washington and the anti-Turkish lobby groups in the US who have now found a powerful ally in both Tel Aviv and Tel Aviv’s supporters in the United States.

Because of this, as sure as some tails are prone to wag the proverbial dog, it appears obvious that Israel’s influence over Washington is threatening to kill the dying Manbij agreement.

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