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  • Is Libya Turkey’s Neighbor?

    Thursday, 16 January, 2020

    Salman Al-Dossary
    Salman Al-Dossary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

    When a State has very aggressive political tools, it cannot use diplomacy, but rather fails in it. This applies literally to Turkish politics. The faltering political agendas prevail over the language of reason, logic and international relations. The tactics of the Ottoman Empire in the 18th century dominate the mentality of the Sultan in the 21st century.

    Therefore, Turkey always finds itself in conflicts, disagreements and wars with everyone. So which country can be called its friend today?

    If we exclude Doha, which shares converging policies with Ankara due to the presence of the Turkish base in Qatar, the rest of the world puts barriers and keeps a cautionary distance.

    After the military operations and the invasion of the Syrian north, the latest unexpected Turkish adventures came with the announcement of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of his country’s military intervention in Libya. Ankara began sending soldiers and mercenaries, and had previously sent weapons, in a clear violation of international legitimacy and Security Council Resolution 1970 of 2011, which stipulates that Libya must not be provided with arms.

    All this is happening despite the absence of direct borders between Libya and Turkey, which are separated by the Greek island of Crete. But Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar offered another definition of geography when he recently declared that “Libya is our neighbor from the sea!” According to this fictional “Ottoman” definition, India and Pakistan are neighbors to Saudi Arabia, Syria is a neighbor to France, and Lebanon is Spain’s!

    Libya ranks fifth in the world in oil reserves, at an average of 74 billion barrels, enough to export oil for another 112 years. This may be a sufficient reason for Ankara to try to interfere, especially as it suffers from lack of energy resources and imports 90% of its oil needs, while consuming 500,000 barrels per day.

    However, the economic goal is not the only reason that pushes Turkey to intervene militarily. In fact, Libya’s position as a major strategic element in Turkish foreign policy is increasingly growing. Ankara can use it to compete with its old rivals, such as Greece, or the new ones, like Egypt. While the country was intervening in the past through its proxies, its strategy has become official and scandalous.

    Moreover, Libya constitutes the main hub of migration routes between the African and European continents, and this file has been used by Turkey to blackmail its European neighbors and threaten them with Syrian immigrants’ invasion with the aim of obtaining countless material gains. It wants to have a new role, so that no anti-immigrant policies in Europe can be countered without Turkey having a means to blackmail again.

    The Turkish invasion of Libya has failed before it began.

    In addition to the difficulty of implementing this tactic on the ground and the lack of geographical conditions that led Ankara to military intervene in Syria, the Turkish notoriety has globally increased.

    All countries have condemned this brutal Turkish intervention, except Qatar, of course, which supported it.

    Turkish policy has become associated with recklessness and arrogance and deserves the first place prize of achieving catastrophic failure at the political, military and strategic levels.


    • ^^^ Real reason

      "Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has said that no project can proceed without his country's consent following a maritime border agreement that Ankara signed with Libya's Tripoli-based government."


      • “These Mercenaries Believe Whatever Turkey Tells Them”

        by Lindsey Snell

        A Turkish-made JMK Bora-12 that allegedly arrived in Tripoli with a shipment of weapons from Turkey last weekAs Syrian and Russian forces bombard Idlib and the Aleppo countryside, thousands of militants from the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA) who would presumably be defending these areas in Syria are instead in Libya. They’ve been flown to Tripoli by Turkey, at the request of the Government of National Accord (GNA), to fight alongside the myriad Islamist groups defending the key city from the advancing Libyan National Army (LNA), led by General Khalifa Haftar.
        But according to Soleman Mohammad* a 21 year-old Syrian mercenary from Kafr Nabl, a town in the Idlib countryside, the TFSA in Tripoli are sufficiently motivated to fight in Libya. “There are Russians here,” he said. “Russian soldiers. The Turks confirmed this to us. I wouldn’t even hurt a Libyan here. But if I find a Russian, I will put a stick up his ass.”
        Hasan Khalid*, a TFSA source in Afrin, told The Investigative Journal that Turkish forces are resorting to lies to keep the Syrians fighting in Libya both placated and motivated. “Of course there are no Russian soldiers there. If the Turks tell them there are Russian troops in Libya, and that the [TFSA] will get fight them, they believe they are fighting the same enemy that is destroying their cities in Syria. But of course, this is a lie, and Libya is not Syria. But these mercenaries believe whatever Turkey tells them.”
        Soleman Mohammad said he hadn’t seen much fighting, but was promised that a major offensive would start soon. “With the help of the Turkish forces and their equipment, we will defeat the Russians,” he said. When asked about General Haftar and the LNA, Mohammad answered without hesitation. “Haftar hates the Sunni people,” he said. When informed that Haftar, like the vast majority of Libyans, is Sunni, he added, “I mean, he hates the Sunnah. He is Sunni in name only.”
        Mohammad said that the Americans were on the side of Turkey and the GNA. When asked why he believed this to be true, he again said, “We were told by Turkey.” (Mohammad was not aware that President Donald Trump praised Haftar in a phone call to the General himself last year.)
        Following German-led peace talks between the GNA, LNA, and their foreign partners in Berlin last month, a tenuous ceasefire was established between the rivals. But on January 28th, a Turkish ship carrying military vehicles and weapons arrived at the port of Tripoli, violating the ceasefire agreement and previously-established UN arms embargo. Abdullah Rahman*, a 26 year-old Syrian mercenary from the Sultan Murad faction sent a photo of a JMK Bora-12, a Turkish-made sniper rifle he says was part of the Turkish arms shipment.
        When asked if he considered the Turkish-made weapon to be high quality, Issa Abbas*, a TFSA commander based in the Aleppo countryside laughed. “I don’t know,” he said. “The only time the Free [Syrian] Army sees weapons like that is in the movies. Or in the [online battleground game] PUBG. We have never seen this gun in Syria.”
        In addition to bolstering the GNA with weapons shipments, Turkey has continued sending Syrian mercenaries to Tripoli. The militants cross into Turkey and are briefly held at military points near Gaziantep or in Ankara. They are sent to Istanbul via Turkish military plane, where they transfer to Libyan commercial aircraft to fly to Tripoli. (At the time of this writing, a TFSA source in Afrin said that around 100 Syrians were in Istanbul, where they would soon board a flight to Tripoli.)
        Despite a monthly salary of $2000 or more, and additional benefits, such as Turkish citizenship for any militant who stays in Libya for six months, Turkey has had issues recruiting as many Syrian mercenaries as they’d like. According to Issa Abbas, last week, Turkish forces informed 9th Brigade TFSA factions stationed at points throughout the Southern countryside of Aleppo that they’d be left on their own, without Turkish support, to repel impending Syrian government and Russian Air Force attacks on the area. In protest, commanders from these factions threatened to stop allowing their fighters to join the fight in Libya. “But that ended very fast, because Turkey threatened to stop paying any salaries,” Abbas said.
        According to Hasan Khalid, after reports of Syrian mercenaries being confined to camps for days upon arrival in Tripoli made their way back to Syria, other TFSA members soured on the idea of coming to Libya. Turkish forces encouraged the Syrian fighters in Tripoli to try to convince their friends back in Syria to consider the trip, promising the mercenaries a per-head bonus if they were able to successfully recruit.

        Still from a video sent by a Syrian militant in LibyaLast week, Ahmad Ibrahim*, a 23 year-old fighter from the Sultan Murad TFSA faction sent a video of the villa he was sharing with several other militants. “This is the new house,” he said, panning around what looked to be a child’s bedroom. “Everything in Libya is great.” he paused his camera on a pack of Kent cigarettes. “And,” he added later, “they let us smoke weed here!”
        Soleman Mohammad made similar remarks. “They smoke hash like cigarettes, and I spend all day high and laughing. I am expected to appear at the frontlines tomorrow, but I will be so high,” he said.
        All six of the Syrian mercenaries interviewed by The Investigative Journal said that, while they were given more freedom after they were allowed to leave the reception camp, they were still quite limited in their daily activities. None were allowed to leave their residences without a Libyan escort. Their access to the internet was limited to a couple hours a day.
        When asked if he would rather be at home in Syria, fighting to defend Idlib, Mohammad thought for a moment.
        “Sure, I wish I was there, a little. My heart is there. But it doesn’t matter. The commanders, the Free Syrian Army, are selling [out] and walking away. So I have, too,” he said.


        • “I came for the money”: Interview with a Turkish-Backed Syrian Mercenary in Libya

          by Lindsey Snell

          0 0
          When Turkish President Erdogan announced he would be sending men from the so-called “Syrian National Army,” also known as the Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army (TFSA) to Libya to fight in support of the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli, rumors among the Syrian opposition began to swirl. One TFSA commander in Afrin told me that fighters would be paid $2000 per month. “It’s around $100 here in Syria, or $2,000 there. It’s an easy choice for them,” he said. He mentioned that recruitment efforts were heavily focused on areas in and around Idlib recently recaptured from the Syrian opposition by the Syrian government and Russia. “They’re homeless. Erdogan lures them with this as a way to rebuild their lives for their families.”
          Tripoli, Libya in 2014
          By: Lindsey SnellThe TFSA commander mentioned that the TFSA was offering a sort of recruitment bonus of a couple hundred dollars for those who didn’t want to travel to Libya to fight but knew someone who did and referred them. “And it’s not just fighters they are sending,” the commander said. “It’s also civilians who are poor and willing to go. They have to hit certain numbers every time they send a plane.” To date, an estimated 3,000 TFSA members have traveled to Libya.
          The Investigative Journal managed to interview one TFSA mercenary stationed at a camp in Tripoli. We can’t reveal his name, but we will call him “Ahmed.” We can’t reveal the name of his faction, or his exact location.
          Sign in support of General Haftar in Martyr’s Square, 2014
          Photo by: Lindsey Snell
          “We hear ‘Haftar, Haftar, Haftar,’ but we don’t know who he is and never even saw him on the news,” Ahmed said, referring to General Khalifa Haftar, the leader of the Libyan National Army (LNA), the force fighting the GNA. “The Turks mentioned his name to us in Syria, and told us to go fight him, but no one cared until they said it was $2,000 a month to go.” Before arriving in Libya, Ahmed hadn’t heard of the LNA, the force fighting the GNA in Tripoli. “We haven’t even met Libyans here,” he said. “The Turks come to train us, but that’s all we see.”
          President Erdogan has claimed that there are no Turkish soldiers on the ground in Libya, and that only Turkish military commanders and advisors had traveled to Tripoli. Ahmed says this isn’t true. “There are Turkish soldiers here. Not just commanders. There are a lot of Turkish soldiers, but not as many as there are Syrians. They’re living in a separate place. And they’re treated better than us.”
          Ahmed says there was much talk among the Syrian militants about escaping the camp and finding a smuggler to ferry them to Italy, but in his area, this hasn’t happened. “The Turks came to count us to make sure it didn’t happen,” he said. (The LNA has reported the capture of several Syrian militants who were attempting to make the trip, including an ISIS member, and say that more than a hundred more have already made deposits to try to secure their spots on boats with smugglers.)
          Shortly after arriving at the camp, Ahmed said he was part of a group of 70 who were divided between ground forces, snipers, and other positions. “I’ve been in many camps, and the difference in this one is that we are not being trained for combat as usual,” he said. “They are training us for guerrilla street wars…for close-range street combat. But we barely hold weapons in practice,” he said. The Syrian militants also not been briefed on the weaponry possessed by or fighting style of the LNA.
          Ahmed’s group has yet to see combat, though a number of Syrian mercenaries have already been killed in battle. “We’re only eating, playing sports, and sitting in the camp, and we’re forbidden to leave the camp. They bring us food and cigarettes,” Ahmed said. “We’re getting $2,000 a month to do nothing.” Ahmed said.
          Tripoli, Libya in 2014
          Photo by: Lindsey SnellAhmed has no regrets about coming to Libya. “I came for the money…because of the situation in Syria and because the dollar is so xxxxty [referring to the near-collapse of the Syrian Pound],” he said. “Some of us are from Aleppo, some from Ghouta and Homs…and all of us are displaced with nothing left. We have no homes. We have nothing left. We don’t even have a tree branch in Syria. And I still have a family to feed. Call us mercenaries or whatever, but what are we supposed to do? No one has anything left in Syria.”



            Originally appeared at ZeroHedge
            The initial major rationale and justification the US administration offered for the drone assassination of IRGC Gen. Qassem Soleimani and commander of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis was the Dec.27 rocket attack on K1 camp in Kirkuk, which houses coalition forces.
            That attack involving surface-to-surface missile strikes killed an American contractor and reportedly wounded several US troops. Washington immediately blamed the Iran-backed Iraqi paramilitary group Khataib Hezbollah, with Mike Pompeo saying of the attack: “We will not stand for the Islamic Republic of Iran to take actions that put American men and women in jeopardy,” after he briefed President Trump. But top Iraqi military and intelligence officials are now calling this entire narrative into question.
            NYT: 'Iran-Backed Militia' Attack That Provoked Soleimani Killing Was Possible ISIS False Flag ISIS terrorists in Iraq, file image.
            A new lengthy New York Times investigative report cites multiple top Iraqi officials who go on record to say of their analysis of the Dec.27 Kirkuk incident: “These facts all point to the Islamic State, Iraqi officials say.”
            The Pentagon says it has evidence decisively pinning it on Khataib Hezbollah, known for its closeness to Tehran; however, the paramilitary group itself has denied that it was behind the operation. US officials have from the start been scant on details and have not made public any evidence or intelligence.
            This led some analysts in the days after the attack to question whether ISIS cells, still known to be active in the area, might have been behind it given also it would be to the Sunni terrorist group’s benefit to sow a major rift between US and local Iraqi Shia forces, which is precisely what happened (Trump has recently gone so far as to threaten “very big sanctions” on Baghdad if US forces are kicked out). Alternately the White House perhaps appeared ready to manufacture a justification to take out Soleimani.
            Further, as detailed in the Times report, the white Kia pick-up from which the rockets were launched was found near a known ISIS execution site, in a heavily Sunni area not known to have had a Shia paramilitary presence since 2014:
            But Iraqi military and intelligence officials have raised doubts about who fired the rockets that started the spiral of events, saying they believe it is unlikely that the militia the United States blamed for the attack, Khataib Hezbollah, carried it out.
            …Iraqi officials say their doubts are based on circumstantial evidence and long experience in the area where the attack took place.
            The rockets were launched from a Sunni Muslim part of Kirkuk Province notorious for attacks by the Islamic State, a Sunni terrorist group, which would have made the area hostile territory for a Shiite militia like Khataib Hezbollah.
            Khataib Hezbollah has not had a presence in Kirkuk Province since 2014.
            The Islamic State, however, had carried out three attacks relatively close to the base in the 10 days before the attack on K-1. Iraqi intelligence officials sent reports to the Americans in November and December warning that ISIS intended to target K-1, an Iraqi air base in Kirkuk Province that is also used by American forces.
            And the abandoned Kia pickup was found was less than 1,000 feet from the site of an ISIS execution in September of five Shiite buffalo herders.
            The NYT further says this single event set off “a chain of events that brought the United States and Iran to the brink of war” which President Trump confided at a private luncheon this week was “closer than you thought”.
            Richard Hanania@RichardHanania

            The attack that provoked the Soleimani killing may have been an ISIS false flag. It wouldn't be the first time unfortunately that the US has been manipulated by Sunnis Islamists to do their bidding. Also can't rule out US intelligence itself having known. …
            View image on Twitter

            9:19 PM - Feb 6, 2020
            Twitter Ads info and privacy

            33 people are talking about this

            Brig. General Ahmed Adnan, the Iraqi chief of intelligence for the federal police at K-1, told the NYT: “All the indications are that it was Daesh.” He said further: “I told you about the three incidents in the days just before in the area — we know Daesh’s movements.”
            “We as Iraqi forces cannot even come to this area unless we have a large force because it is not secure. How could it be that someone who doesn’t know the area could come here and find that firing position and launch an attack?” he questioned.
            Anonymous US officials, however, claim that evidence from within the Kia pickup points to Khataib Hezbollah, and also cited “multiple strains of intelligence” though without making it known.

            Interestingly, amid a general breakdown in trust between Baghdad and Washington, a top Iraqi general has said the US side hasn’t even shared its claimed evidence that Khataib Hezbollah was behind the Kirkuk attack:
            “We have requested the American side to share with us any information, any evidence, but they have not sent us any information,” Lt. Gen. Muhammad al-Bayati, the chief of staff for former Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, said in an interview.
            The director general of Iraqi Intelligence and Counterterrorism, Abu Ali al-Basri, said the United States did not consult Iraq before carrying out the Dec. 29 counterattacks on Khataib Hezbollah.
            “They did not ask for my analysis of what happened in Kirkuk and neither did they share any of their information,” he said. “Usually, they would do both.”
            The bombshell NYT report further collects eyewitness accounts and other Iraqi official statements, all of which strongly suggests the chain of events which led to Soleimani’s Jan.3 killing, which in turn led to an Iranian ‘revenge’ attack with ballistic missiles on Ain al-Asad Air Base, wounding scores of troops (we later found out as part of an ever growing number of solders with ‘Traumatic Brain Injury’ from the blasts), was a possible ‘false flag’ event undertaken by ISIS meant to be pinned on the Islamic State’s Shia enemies backed by Iran.
            US forces in Iraq, via the AP.As Northeastern University counter-terrorism expert Max Abrahms observes: “Let’s recap. Pompeo said Soleimani was killed because he was an imminent threat, a claim he couldn’t substantiate even in private settings.”
            Abrahms said further on Twitter: “The escalation began with a Shia militia attack in which the best evidence indicates the perpetrators were actually ISIS, Soleimani’s enemy.”

            Ultimately, the United States stood on the brink of major war with Iran which could have spiraled into a World War 3 scenario all of which was potentially initiated by an ISIS false flag event designed to unleash more regional chaos.


            • Policy Analysis

              PolicyWatch 3260
              Turkey’s Options for Pressuring Russia in Idlib Are Limited

              Soner Cagaptay
              Also available in العربية
              February 11, 2020

              Weighty domestic concerns and geopolitical fears will likely keep Erdogan from pushing too hard against the current Russian-Syrian campaign, but the parties may yet broker a temporary deal to carve the province in half.

              Besides sending hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing to the Turkish border, the ongoing military campaign against rebels and civilians in Idlib is undermining agreements reached between Presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Previously, they had envisioned the Turkish military and the Syrian rebel factions it backs coexisting in the province with Russian and Syrian forces. Yet Putin and Bashar al-Assad’s renewed military push has raised doubts about whether Erdogan can prevent them from seizing most or all of the territory. On February 4, the Turkish leader warned that “he would not allow Syrian forces to advance,” but his options for following through on this ultimatum are limited by a host of strategic and political factors.

              Although Erdogan is the most powerful politician in Turkey’s modern electoral history, the failed 2016 coup left him feeling vulnerable. Putin has played on these fears as part of his broader effort to cast himself as the protector of threatened leaders worldwide, from Assad to Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro. Shortly after the coup attempt, he reached out to Erdogan before any of Turkey’s traditional Western allies did, then continued to offer support in various sectors even as the post-coup crackdown made Erdogan broadly unwelcome in European capitals.
              Historically, Russia is Turkey’s top geopolitical nemesis, but Putin has deliberately backed down from that posture in his eagerness to drive a wedge in the NATO alliance. As part of this shift (however temporary it may be), he and Erdogan have fostered detente, cut deals on security matters (e.g., Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems), and deconflicted their regional military efforts, first in Syria and later in Libya.
              At the same time, Turkey’s long history of being bullied by Russia makes Erdogan hesitant to cross Putin. Among all its neighbors, there is only one that Ankara truly fears: Russia. Between the fifteenth and twentieth centuries, the two peoples fought nearly twenty wars, all of them instigated and ultimately won by the Russians.
              Turkey’s leaders are therefore keen to avoid escalating the current crisis in Idlib. Although Turkish forces have pushed back against local Syrian and proxy forces to a certain degree, Ankara will shy away from a broader military confrontation with Russia over Idlib.

              Prior to last year, the festering conflict between Libya’s internationally recognized government in Tripoli and the eastern-based forces of Gen. Khalifa Haftar had largely settled into a stalemate. This stasis, however fragile, was more or less acceptable to Turkey so long as the Tripoli government (which it supports) was not seriously threatened by Haftar (who has the backing of Erdogan’s regional adversaries, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt).
              Yet as the year wore on and fighting broke out again in earnest, Russia changed the game by enhancing its own military support for Haftar. By providing him with critical materiel (e.g., nighttime warfare capability), additional well-trained mercenaries (i.e., “Wagner’s Army”), and the know-how to shoot down the Tripoli government’s Turkish-provided drones, Putin turned Haftar into a mortal threat against Ankara’s local allies. This forced Erdogan to deploy his own forces to Libya, and to seek Russia’s help in securing a ceasefire that could prevent Haftar from seizing Tripoli.
              Although Putin failed to broker a conclusive ceasefire at a January summit in Moscow, he has decreased his most potent support to Haftar—for now. This gives him an opportunity to link his Syria policy with his Libya policy when dealing with Turkey. If Erdogan pushes back any harder in Idlib, Putin would likely renew his full-fledged support to Haftar, putting Tripoli within the general’s grasp.
              That scenario is unacceptable to Ankara, not only because it would humiliate Erdogan regionally, but also because it would lead to Turkey’s encirclement in the East Mediterranean by adversaries old (Greece and Cyprus) and new (Egypt and Israel). Over the past few years, these four countries have launched various natural gas and security initiatives with each other, which Ankara believes will blossom into active strategic cooperation against Turkey. This fear played a major role in Erdogan’s November decision to sign a maritime boundary agreement with Libya, drawing a line that might allow him to cut into the emerging Cypriot-Egyptian-Greek-Israeli bloc while countering Egypt-Emirati pressure on Tripoli. But upsetting Putin in Syria could upend that strategy.

              Turkey already hosts nearly 4 million Syrian refugees, and if Idlib province falls, the resulting mass displacements could overwhelm Ankara’s resources and cause further domestic backlash. Turkey’s political environment remains highly polarized between pro- and anti-Erdogan blocs, but resentment toward Syrian refugees is the rare issue on which popular opinion is united. After welcoming millions of fleeing Syrians and hosting them for nearly a decade, most Turks now seem to believe that their presence is impeding government efforts to address economic recession and other challenges. According to a recent Kadir Has University poll, nearly 70 percent of Turkish respondents are “unhappy” with the refugee presence.
              Hence, if Russia and Assad continue their campaign to empty out Idlib, Turkey will not agree to absorb all of the resultant refugee flows on its own. Instead, Erdogan will likely try to steer the refugees toward Europe, either indirectly through third countries or by opening Turkey’s doors and allowing them to cross into Greece.

              Putin’s goal is to end the war in Syria on terms favorable to him and Assad, ultimately reaching a political settlement through the so-called Astana Process. Turkey’s participation in that process is key if the outcome is to have any sort of international legitimacy. Without Ankara’s imprimatur, the Astana Process would become a “Friends of Assad” club in the eyes of the world, since its only other current participants are Russia and Iran.
              Putin also knows that turning the screws too hard in Idlib might push Erdogan back into Washington’s arms, thereby repeating Joseph Stalin’s misstep of 1945-6, when Soviet demands for Turkish territory spurred the country to join NATO and become a close U.S. ally. The Kremlin seems to realize that its long-term strategic interests may be better served by offering Erdogan a new deal in Idlib, even if it plans to renege on that deal later on. Putin may even allow Turkey to conduct symbolically powerful strikes on Assad regime targets.
              In order to maintain balance, however, Moscow will not allow Erdogan to push Assad’s forces out of Idlib entirely. And given the asymmetrical nature of Turkey’s relationship with Russia and the real threat Moscow poses to Turkish interests in Libya, Erdogan will have to take an Idlib deal if Putin offers one.
              This potential deal would likely stem from Assad’s core interests. His Alawite-led regime still wants to retake as much territory as possible, but with as few Sunni Arab residents as possible, since the 2011 uprising was born out of that constituency. This suggests that once Assad secures the strategic M4 and M5 highways running through east and south Idlib, he may acquiesce—at least temporarily—to letting Erdogan control the province’s western and northern sections abutting Turkey. Such an arrangement would press most of Idlib’s population (including around 2-3 million civilians) into an area around 1,000 square miles in size. But creating that humanitarian tinderbox may be a price they are willing to pay in order to kick the Idlib can further down the road.
              Soner Cagaptay is the Beyer Family Fellow at The Washington Institute and author of Erdogan’s Empire: Turkey and the Politics of the Middle East.



                Could Turkey go to war in Syria?

                • Gökhan Bacık
                • Feb 17 2020 02:22 Gmt+3
                • Last Updated On: Feb 17 2020 02:27 Gmt+3

                In 2008, no one would have believed that Turkey would consider taking military action to secure regime change in another country, that it would maintain near-permanent bases abroad, or would control foreign nationals in jihadist groups alongside its own military.
                But in the past decade, Turkey has adopted a doctrine of asymmetric warfare. This has turned Turkey into a different country.
                Following the deaths of 13 Turkish soldiers in Syrian government shelling in the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib this month, Turkey has entered a new phase and we are left with an entirely new question; could Turkey enter a conventional war in Syria?
                In other words, is a war between Turkey and Syria, in which Russia would play an important role, now possible? The answer to this question for now is that warfare is a possibility that should concern us.
                First, let us visit some important points:
                As far as Russia is concerned, Syria’s future is tied to President Bashar Assad’s regime. Someone else could be president, but maintaining the current regime is Russia’s red line.
                As a result, the solution to the Syrian crisis for Russia is for the Syrian government to regain control of the entire country. In this situation, the Syrian military has been proceeding with Russian support without regard to which areas are under the control of Turkish troops.
                If the Syrian military encounters trouble, Russian forces provide air support to clear the way. Considering developments since December, it is clear that Russia is proceeding with attacks without discriminating between those groups backed by Turkey and those that are not.
                It is clear that Russia’s goal is the restoration of Syrian government control over all of Syria, but Turkey has spent the past five years unable to see that.
                What has happened in Idlib over the past week has come as no surprise. The dynamics at play are a result of disagreements behind the scenes, at meetings such as the series of talks in Astana, Kazakhstan. Although it is well-known that Turkey and Russia could not reach a consensus on many issues, Ankara thought it could continue on its way as if these issues did not exist.
                What is more, the assumption that everything will be resolved in the near future has resulted in short-sighted decisions. For example, compared to the beginning of the war in Syria, at this point every radical group considered useful is receiving indiscriminate Turkish support. But despite this support in arms, money and resources, these groups do not stand a chance in the face of the Russia-supported Syrian military.
                This terrible strategy has taken a toll beyond the loss in life and resources.
                The first is the destruction of the Turkish state’s reputation, which was constructed over a century to project a peaceful and influential image.
                The second is the damage to Turkey’s reputation as a strong state. As Turkey sits at the negotiating table with Russia, the Syrian military attacks Turkey with Russian support. It is important to see that the Syrian military’s actions are belittling for Turkey.
                The Syrian government is clearly challenging Ankara. Russia does not seem to care, and is taking sides. Not a single actor is hesitating due to worries about Turkey’s response.
                Meanwhile, Turkish decision-makers remain bullish.
                For example, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s coalition partner, Devlet Bahçeli, said: “The Turkish nation should be ready to enter Damascus if it becomes necessary, if we do not see other options.” At the time, Turkish soldiers near Idlib, surrounded by Syrian forces, were unable to receive air support due to Russian hindrance.
                Given the clashes in Idlib, Turkish commanders should also reflect on their actions. What kind of strategic short-sightedness would allow Turkish surveillance to end up being surrounded by enemy forces? What are these Turkish forces now observing, in surveillance zones, surrounded by the Syrian military?
                The Turkish general staff’s statement that it responded in kind is seriously concerning if it is using this rhetoric as more than a public relations ploy. It can be read as a clue that the general staff is struggling to articulate the position that they are in.
                So, would Ankara seriously consider a conventional war with Syria?
                Firstly, if we look at the performance and thought processes of its foreign policy leaders since 2011, we could say this would not be a surprising outcome. As it is, the crisis in Syria has naturally brought us far past the point of direct confrontation between Turkey and Syria.
                Still, many pro-government advisors and writers have been arguing for continuing and expanding war with Syria.
                The second critical point is this: what will happen if Russia confronts Turkey with its pro-Damascus red lines?
                When considering this problem, it is important to bear in mind that some Turkey-backed jihadist groups have been attacking both Russian and Syrian targets without distinction.
                To revisit an important point: Russia’s fundamental Syria policy is based on the Damascus government regaining control of the entire country. Consequently, an attack of Syrian government forces is an attack on Russia’s central game plan.
                The root of the problem is this: Turkey has clearly decided that it can solve its issues in Syria, including its Kurdish problem, by maintaining a long-term military presence in the country. This long-term strategy also includes establishing political and civilian administrations in certain areas as well.
                For this reason, we will continue to see Turkey put up with and further complicate the crisis in Syria, creating more problems along the way.


                • Russia-Turkey Alliance Is Beginning to Unravel in Syria

                  The collapse of the “Astana format” would jeopardize the conflict settlement system in Syria that Russia has spent so much time constructing.

                  By Marianna Belenkaya
                  Feb. 13, 2020

                  Baderkhan Ahmad / AP / TASS Will the Moscow-Ankara alliance in Syria remain intact? This is the main question following clashes this month between the Syrian and Turkish militaries in Idlib.
                  The United States, meanwhile, is clearly hoping to take advantage of the situation, with Washington expressing unconditional support for Turkey — and taking up yet another opportunity to condemn Russian actions in Syria.
                  What happened?
                  Damascus intensified its offensive in Idlib in late December. When the latest ceasefire agreement between Moscow and Ankara collapsed about one month later, Turkey began deploying military equipment to the area to support Syrian opposition militias and to strengthen its own observation posts — some of which were now located on territory controlled by Damascus.
                  In the past 10 days, Turkish military and civilian advisors there have come under fire by Syrian artillery at least twice and casualties have been reported. In retaliation, Turkey has hit Syrian positions, leading to at least 10 times as many casualties among pro-Assad forces.
                  Who is to blame?
                  Ankara has unequivocally blamed Damascus for the escalation, though in early February, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lay part of the blame on Russia for the first time — for giving free reign to Bashar al-Assad.
                  Erdogan has also leveled accusations at Iran, thereby threatening to undermine the so-called “Astana format” that includes the three countries. Until only recently, Ankara had repeatedly stated its desire to maintain that trilateral relationship.
                  Turkey initially played for time in hopes of reaching an understanding with Russia. Ankara hosted two rounds of talks between the two countries’ foreign ministries and security forces, but they came to nothing. Even a phone conversation between Erdogan and President Vladimir Putin did not produce a compromise.
                  Ankara has since essentially issued an ultimatum demanding that Syrian forces return to the positions they occupied before their offensive — that is, behind the line of Turkey’s observation posts — by the end of February. Erdogan has added that if Turkish troops or anyone else is injured as a result of further actions by Damascus, Turkey would “hit the regime forces everywhere… regardless of what was decided in the Sochi agreement.”
                  What is Russia’s position?
                  Moscow has not yet shown any desire to make concessions. It initially tried to smooth over the situation by saying that the Turkish military had failed to warn its Russian colleagues in time about any possible troop movements. Russia later shifted the blame on terrorist groups.

                  Russia Accuses Turkey of Breaking Syria Deals, Rejects Erdogan Claim

                  Read more

                  According to a statement made by Russia’s Foreign Ministry on Feb. 6, “the Russian and Turkish militaries made another attempt in mid-January to introduce a ceasefire in the Idlib de-escalation zone. The terrorists, however, not only did not reduce their military activity, but increased their attacks.”
                  Moscow’s intent has been to show that Russia and Turkey suffered equally from the escalation, because terrorist actions resulted in the deaths of not only hundreds of Syrian troops and civilians outside the de-escalation zone, but also of Turkish and Russian military experts. Moscow has maintained this position for the past week. What’s more, Russian state-controlled media reports have suggested that the escalation between the Syrian and Turkish militaries was a provocation.
                  What’s next?
                  The collapse of the “Astana format” would jeopardize the conflict settlement system in Syria that Russia has spent so much time constructing. The cooperation between the three countries involved had successfully resulted in “on the ground” compromises over the past three years, as well as at least some progress on the humanitarian and political front. No other grouping of mediators has been able to achieve anything of the sort in Syria. In fact, before the “Astana format” took shape, Russia had engaged with the U.S. to resolve issues “on the ground,” but it turned out that Washington did not have anywhere near the same level of influence over the armed opposition in Syria as Turkey.
                  The West believes that the actions of the “Astana format” have only strengthened the hand of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who has regained control of 70% of the country’s territory in the past three years.

                  Putin Discovers the Pain of Being Erdogan’s Pal

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                  This is generally true, but it is also true that this played out with the approval of Turkey, which, one would think, should have supported the Syrian opposition. However, Ankara’s primary interest was to create a buffer zone on the Syrian border which would prevent Kurdish militants from entering Turkish territory and provide a location — outside Assad’s control — to which Syrian refugees in Turkey could eventually return.
                  Although Ankara did carry out several military operations against Syrian Kurds that provided a limited foothold in the area, it is not yet big enough for refugees to return to. One solution would be to add part of Idlib to the territory. Indeed, prior to the recent hostilities, it seemed that Russia and Turkey would reach a new agreement concerning Idlib’s new borders. Ankara’s ultimatum, however, has thrown that into doubt.
                  Against this backdrop, Washington has clearly sided with Turkey. During a visit to Ankara, U.S. Special Representative for Syria James Jeffrey called the Russian and Syrian government forces a threat to Turkish troops. Washington has long been trying to break the Ankara-Moscow alliance in Syria, and now they have such an opportunity. The question now is whether Moscow can once again turn the situation in Syria to its favor.

                  The views expressed in opinion pieces do not necessarily reflect the position of The Moscow Times.

                  Marianna Belenkaya

                  Marianna Belenkaya is an expert on Arab affairs and a journalist at the Kommersant publishing house.


                  • Azerbaijani police violently break up post-election protest

                    Several opposition figures and journalists were beaten following a sit-in protesting parliamentary elections that saw widespread cheating.

                    Durna Safarova Feb 12, 2020

                    Protesters gather in front of the Central Election Commission HQ in Baku to protest elections they saw as falsified. ( police have violently broken up protests following contested parliamentary elections, further tarnishing the vote that was intended to create an image of positive reforms in the country.
                    On the afternoon of February 11, a few dozen protesters – including several of the defeated opposition candidates – gathered in front of the office of the Central Election Commission (CEC) in Baku for a sit-in. They demanded that the results of the parliamentary elections two days earlier be annulled after independent observers registered widespread cheating, including ballot-stuffing and multiple voting.
                    While elections in Azerbaijan have regularly been falsified, protests against them have been relatively rare. This time, though, expectations among some in the opposition were higher, given a relative loosening of restrictions against the opposition and the presence of monitors from the OSCE, who did not observe the last parliamentary elections in 2015. Those high expectations led to a greater sense of resentment when the results turned out to be more of the same, said Akif Gurbanov, head of the Baku-based Institute for Democratic Initiatives.
                    “People understand that the promises the government has been making aren’t honest, so they are disappointed,” he said.
                    President Ilham Aliyev, whose New Azerbaijan Party and its allies maintained total control of the parliament following the vote, denied that there was any reason to doubt the results. “If the Azerbaijani people were dissatisfied with these elections, they would raise their voices,” he said during a meeting with Turkish members of parliament. “This shows again that these elections reflect the will of the Azerbaijani people and that is the most important thing.”
                    But many of the losing candidates disagreed.
                    “We are protesting total fraud in the country, fraud in the elections,” said Rabiyya Mammadova, one of the candidates, in an interview with BBC Azerbaijan.
                    As the hours passed, the protesters wrapped in blankets against the chill, more people came to join them. An official from the CEC came out of the building to invite some of the protesters in for a meeting, but they rejected the offer. Mammadova told Eurasianet that opposition candidates had made many complaints to the CEC in the course of the campaign, which they didn’t respond to, giving them little reason to expect help now.
                    The authorities considered the protest unauthorized, and once night fell police were called to the scene, where they detained many of the participants. Several were beaten by the police and sustained injuries.
                    “Some big buses arrived, and police came out of them and started attacking the protesters,” said Aynur Elgunesh, a freelance journalist who was covering the event, in an interview with Eurasianet. Elgunesh said she tried to stay away from the fray, as she has a leg injury that reduces her mobility. Despite that, an officer approached her and told her to “go to hell,” she said. She showed him her press card but to no avail. “He punched me in the head, I staggered and fell down,” she said. “Then policemen were kicking me … it hurt so much.”
                    Arzulla Buludlu, a member of the opposition Musavat party, also was wounded while being detained.
                    “Three policemen assaulted me,” Buludlu told Eurasianet. “When I asked them why they were doing it, one of them kicked me with his knee in my ribs. I fell down and he kicked my head.” Others who were detained demanded that the police get an ambulance for him, but they refused, he said. Eventually he was taken to the hospital and examined under police supervision. “The doctors said I should be hospitalized at least three days, but the police shouted at the doctors that I had to leave the hospital,” he said.
                    Mammadova, the candidate, had her hand broken. Mustafa Hajibeyli, another member of Musavat and the editor of a website,, also was beaten and shared photos of his bruised face. Another journalist, Sevinc Vaqifqizi, was bruised on her face and arm. The OSCE reported that at least eight journalists had been injured.

                    “I am very concerned by last night’s detentions, violent incidents and mistreatment by law enforcement representatives,” said Harlem Désir, the OSCE Representative on Freedom of the Media, in a statement on February 12.
                    Images and video of the chaos were widely shared on social media, but police denied that anyone was injured. Elgunesh said she personally told the police spokesman, Ehsan Zahidov, about her injuries. “I called him and told what had happened to us,” she said.
                    Police ultimately forced all of the demonstrators on to buses, where they were driven around for two hours before being freed outside the city center.
                    “What was the point of these atrocities?” wrote Ali Karimli, the head of the People’s Front Party of Azerbaijan, on Facebook. “Let’s leave aside the law, that has long been ignored. But there is also reason and logic, which is not being used to rule the country.”
                    Gurbanov of the Institute for Democratic Initiatives said the authorities seemed to initially accept the protesters’ presence, but as more people began to arrive and more were livestreaming the event, they got worried. “They felt there was a risk that if it wasn’t prevented then, it would create a new wave and so they had to crack down,” he told Eurasianet.
                    “As always, the government has a great fear of street protests because they always see in them a potential revolution,” said Leila Alieva, a political analyst and visiting scholar at the University of Oxford. “The protesters are the new elite, young and educated people, whom the government should be attracting. But instead they are driving them further into the opposition.”

                    Durna Safarova is a freelance journalist who covers Azerbaijan.


                    • How Turkey took Syria’s civil war to Libya

                      "I want my son back. I don’t want him to be killed and don’t want him to kill Syrians. We have had enough bloodshed," said the mother of one Syrian fighter in Libya.

                      Sunday 23/02/2020

                      From one war to another. Turkish-backed fighters from al-Mutasim Brigade take part in a training at a camp near Marea in northern Syria, last September. (AFP)

                      BEIRUT - When Syrian fighters were recruited to fight Libya in late 2019, many eagerly signed up, thinking this was going to be a quick 3-month adventure that paid good money.
                      They were recruited by Turkey to fight alongside the forces of Libyan Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj, engaged in an uphill battle against the Libyan National Army of Field-Marshal Khalifa Haftar, who is backed by Russia, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
                      The Syrian Organisation for Human Rights (SOHR) said Turkey was paying recruits up to $2,000 per month to save Tripoli from a Haftar takeover. The number of Syrian fighters crossed the 1,000-man mark in October and at least one Syrian has been killed in the Libyan battlefield, SOHR said.
                      Five months later, none has returned to Syria and more are being shipped off to Libya, only this time to fight alongside Haftar against their fellow Syrians, creating a mini Syrian civil war on Libyan territory.
                      Two sides of the Libya war

                      “We have entered a new stage in the Syrian conflict,” said Ibrahim Hamidi, senior diplomatic editor at Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, “a stage where Syrians are fighting the war of others in faraway places. With no doubt, this will add to existing complications in the Syrian national patchwork.”
                      A recent report in Asharq Al-Awsat stated that additional Syrian fighters arrived in Libya in February, recruited by Russia from Douma in the Damascus countryside. Fifty of them signed 3-month contracts and are to receive $800 per month.
                      Those Syrians will be exempted from mandatory military service back home, given that they are mostly former opposition fighters who reconciled with the Russian and Syrian armies two years ago. They, of course, will be fighting fellow Syrians in Libya.
                      The Douma factor

                      No breakdown is available as to who the Syrian fighters are nor what cities or towns they originate from. However, Douma is a former hub for the Syrian opposition and its sons are fighting on two sides of the Libyan conflict, shooting at each other outside of Tripoli. This will have ripple effects on Douma, which has not recovered from the trauma of war, nor has it been reconstructed.
                      “Sending them to Libya -- a battlefield to which they have no connection whatsoever -- will undoubtedly reflect negatively on their home communities” said Amer Elias, a political analyst in Damascus. “It will reduce their popularity because people will accuse them of abandoning both their cause and community.”
                      Maher, a Syrian barber from East Ghouta, whose cousin is fighting in Libya, told The Arab Weekly: “We are not happy with his decision but we cannot blame him. He is doing it only for the money.”
                      “He was uprooted from his home, which was demolished, and sent to live in Jarabulus (a Turkish-occupied city in northern Syria). He cannot find a job and needs to feed his four little children,” Maher said. “When you are sinking, you take anything that is offered to you -- even if it’s a straw.”
                      Maher insisted that his cousin went to Libya “so that he can live and make money. He sought martyrdom in Syria but he doesn’t want to die in Libya.”
                      Abu Nader, a former member of the armed opposition in Homs, now reconciled with the government, disagreed. Working as a taxi driver in Damascus, he said: “When all of this started, we took up arms to defend our homes and children, not to fight for [Turkish President] Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
                      “Halfway through the war, we realised that Erdogan was using us and willing to trade us for any deal that satisfied his ambitions. He doesn’t care about the people of Syria. Anybody who still takes money from him is a traitor to the blood of Syrians.”
                      The Syrian fighters sent to Libya can be broken down into four main groups. Two are mercenaries from the Al-Mutassim and Sultan Murad Divisions who are in Libya out of obedience to Erdogan. The third group is engaged in Libya because they are ideologically committed to jihad, mainly being fighters from the Sham Legion. The fourth are Russia-paid mercenaries fighting in Libya for purely financial reasons.
                      No sense at all

                      “My son went to Libya,” said Um Ubada, a Palestinian-Syrian housewife from the demolished Yarmouk Refugee Camp in Damascus. “He was told he was going to fight someone called Khalifa Haftar. I don’t know who Haftar is and I don’t care. I want my son back.
                      “I don’t want him to be killed and don’t want him to kill Syrians. We have had enough bloodshed. He didn’t go there to fight Syrians but to fight Libyans.”
                      “The recruitment of Syrian rebels in the Libyan war makes no sense to Syrians or Libyans,” said Hassan Hassan, director of the Non-State Actors Programme at the Centre for Global Policy in the United States. “Turkey did great damage to both causes by sending mercenaries to Libya, especially at a time when northern Syria was being attacked by the Syrian regime and when Turkey failed to force Russia to abide by its promises of de-escalation.
                      “It also remains unclear why Libyans need a few hundred fighters from Syria. The whole thing makes no sense and is greatly damaging.”

                      Written By Sami Moubayed
                      Sami Moubayed is a Syrian historian and author of Under the Black Flag (IB Tauris, 2015).