John Bolton has abruptly left Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan refused to meet with him. The Turkish President’s rebuffing of Bolton came after the US National Security Advisor’s meeting in Israel with Benjamin Netanyahu. In Israel, Bolton stated that a condition for America’s planned troop withdrawal from north-eastern Syria would be an assurance from Ankara that Turkish armed forces would not target the YPG/PKK terror group that has thus far remained allied with US forces in Syria.
Bolton ought to have known that his statement would be met with anger in Turkey as Turkey’s main reason for seeking to cooperate with the US over a transfer of power in north-eastern Syria revolves around the clear and present danger that YPG/PKK terrorism presents to the Turkish people as well as to Arab, Kurdish, Turkomen and Christian minorities (including Armenians) in northern Syria. While the terror group Daesh is largely vanquished in Syria, the YPG/PKK remains strong thanks to its US protectors. As the PKK is responsible for over 40,000 deaths in Turkey, including civilians, women and children, President Erdoğan has made it clear to Donald Trump that any protracted presence of the PKK’s Syrian branch YPG operating in striking distance of the Turkish border is unacceptable, as much as it would be unacceptable for Turkey to fund anti-American terrorists operating on the Canadian or Mexican border with the United States.
Donald Trump’s announcement of a US pull-out from Syria came shortly after his phone call with Erdoğan, while Trump also subsequently announced his displeasure with the YPG/PKK for selling oil to Damascus and Tehran. Thus, for a variety of reasons, Trump did reach the correct conclusion that a US troop withdrawal which would allow for America’s NATO ally Turkey to conduct anti-terror operations in north-eastern Syria, was the right move. Trump’s decision was applauded by Ankara but now it appears that John Bolton along with his long time partners in the Israel lobby are trying to push Trump in another direction.
While Israel does not actively operate in north-eastern Syria, Israel is notably the only regional supporter of YPG separatism in Syria. This is partly motivated by Israel’s desire to see Syrian territory Balkanised (in contravention of UN Security Council Resolution 2254), but it is also motivated by the sharp downturn in Turkey-Israel relations. While woefully under-reported, Israel is using its regional influence against Turkey in the following areas:
–forming pipeline and other energy partnerships with Turkey’s adversaries in Cairo, Nicosia and Athens
–increasing military cooperation with the Craiova Group – a partnership between Greece, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania
–overtly supporting partisan Kurdish separatist groups in both Iraq and Syria
–allowing the US based Israel lobby to make a unique alliance with less influential ethno-nationalist lobbying groups in the US with historic animosities towards Turkey
Because of this and because of the fact that Israel reacted in a uniquely negative manner to Donald Trump’s announcement that he would withdraw US forces from Syria, it is not surprising that John Bolton left Israel waving the YPG/PKK flag on behalf of Benjamin Netanyahu. But while Netanyahu fights for his domestic political life, John Bolton has done nothing other than spit upon a long standing Turkey-US partnership by asking Turkey to protect a terror group that has caused death and misery for scores of thousands of Turks and others across the region.
In many ways though, Bolton has made as much a fool of himself as he has insulted a US ally by refusing to listen to the abundantly clear words of Turkey’s President. Earlier, when Bolton was still on Turkish soil, Erdoğan stated the following:
“YPG cannot represent the Kurds. Turkey cannot accept the U.S.’ condition of ensuring the safety of YPG terrorists in Syria”.
Erdoğan then restated Turkey’s long standing position that it does not target any civilian ethnic group but only terrorist organisations. The President said:
“We distinguish between the terrorists and innocent people by looking at who holds the guns and who they target with them, the actions they carry out, the blood they shed and the oppression they commit”.
Here, the Turkish President has stated everything that anyone in the US could hope to hear regarding a clear commitment to protect civilian life while targeting a terror group whose Turkish branch continues to be recognised by Washington as just that – a proscribed terrorist organisation. Rather than compartmentalising its alliance with both Turkey and Israel, John Bolton and his colleagues have allowed Israel to trample on Turkey-US relations, thus causing frustration for Ankara whilst causing extreme embarrassment for Washington.
When all is said and done, it appears that Bolton controls Trump and Bolton’s instincts are controlled by an uncritical alliance with Israel that seeks to ruin America’s rapprochement with Turkey.