Turkey announces counterterror plan in Syria

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, right, and US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Joseph Dunford speak during their meeting in Ankara on Tuesday. (AFP)
Updated 11 January 2019

Turkey announces counterterror plan in Syria

ANKARA: A day after American officials visited Turkey to discuss and coordinate the US military withdrawal from Syria, Ankara on Wednesday said preparations to eliminate Daesh and other terrorist groups in northern Syria are underway. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan previously committed to his US counterpart Donald Trump to eradicate all remnants of Daesh in Syria. 

But Ankara has strongly objected to recent American conditions for withdrawing from Syria, such as Turkey guaranteeing the safety of Syrian-Kurdish forces allied to the US. 

The meeting between National Security Adviser John Bolton, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford and special envoy on Syria James Jeffrey and their Turkish counterparts was dominated by this disagreement.

Erdogan reportedly declined to meet with Bolton. Before visiting Ankara, Bolton had said Turkey should coordinate any military moves with the US.

Experts say Turkey will not undertake a large-scale operation in northern Syria amid the presence of US troops. 

Aaron Stein, director of the Middle East program at the US-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, said Turkey’s options depend on moves by other actors in the Syrian conflict. 

“Ankara is negotiating with Russia, which is in separate talks with the SDF (Syrian Democratic Forces) and the (Syrian) regime” about the Kurdish-controlled northeast of the country in light of the US plan to withdraw, he told Arab News. 

“Moscow will want to keep Turkey in the tent, but it will also have to manage relations with Damascus, which is clearly annoyed by the prospect of even more Turkish soldiers on its territory.”

If Damascus and the Kurds can reach an agreement on the return of the regime’s authority in the northeast, that will dictate the scope of a Turkish operation or whether it will take place at all, Stein said.

The implosion of the Turkish-Russian deal over the “de-escalation zone” in Syria’s Idlib province will be influential in the near future, he added. 

“Turkey hasn’t been able to uphold its commitments (regarding the Idlib deal), which could strengthen Russian leverage over Ankara,” he said.

“Or Moscow could look the other way should things between the Kurds and the regime go south and no agreement is reached, which could give way to a Russian green light for a Turkish operation.”

Since last month, Erdogan has threatened to conduct a cross-border operation in areas held by the Syrian-Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG), and dispatched military reinforcements along Turkey’s border with Syria. 

Jesse Marks, Middle East analyst and Fulbright scholar at Cambridge University, told Arab News: “Turkey’s plan of action after US forces leave is dependent on how the process of withdrawal is implemented and what changes on the ground occur during this period.”

He said: “The Kurds might reach an agreement with the Syrian government over the northeast. This could pave the way for a transition of northeast Syria to Russian forces to prevent an immediate Turkish offensive, followed by a final handover to Damascus further down the line.”

Turkey is in a diplomatic position to negotiate with the US and Russia simultaneously in order to seek a better range of outcomes in its favor, Marks added. 

But it is unlikely that Turkey will receive a comprehensive green light for military action from either country, he said.  

“Ultimately, the future of northeast Syria isn’t a simple bilateral US-Turkish decision. Kurdish fears of an invasion hastened conversations with the Syrian government over some form of reunification, bringing Russian and Syrian interests into consideration,” he added. 

“If Turkey launches a military offensive after the US drawdown, it has to deal with a range of possibilities that involve Russian and Syrian military actors in the area.” 

Meanwhile, Ankara has asked the US to hand over 16 of its military bases in northern Syria, and to take back arms delivered to the YPG following the withdrawal. 

Experts say for now it is unlikely that the US will hand over any bases in Syria to Turkey because of its alliance with Syrian-Kurdish forces.

Netanyahu struggles to form government amid talk of new election

Updated 17 min 59 sec ago

Netanyahu struggles to form government amid talk of new election

  • Israeli leader faces Wednesday deadline to seal deal
  • Coalition talks deadlocked over military conscription bill

JERUSALEM: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embarked on Sunday on what he termed a “final effort” to break a deadlock on forming a governing coalition ahead of a Wednesday deadline for a deal.
In power for the past decade, Netanyahu has unexpectedly struggled to seal an agreement with a clutch of right-wing, far-right and ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that would align with his Likud party and ensure him a fifth term following Israel’s April 9 election.
Divisions between former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party and United Torah Judaism over a military conscription bill governing exemptions for ultra-Orthodox Jewish seminary students have plunged the coalition talks into stalemate.
Lieberman has long said ultra-Orthodox men must share other Israeli Jews’ burden of mandatory service. Ultra-Orthodox parties say seminary students should be largely exempt from conscription as they have been since Israel was founded in 1948.
A 42-day deadline mandated by law to announce a new government expires on Wednesday, and President Reuven Rivlin can then assign the task to another legislator after consultations with the leaders of political parties.
That could open the way for former military chief Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White party, to try. But he would need the backing of some of Likud’s allies to persuade Rivlin he could put together a ruling majority in parliament.
Likud and Blue and White each won 35 of the Knesset’s 120 seats seats in the April ballot, but Netanyahu was seen as having clinched victory because of the right-wing majority that emerged.
In a video published on Twitter on Sunday, Netanyahu said he had invited all of his negotiating partners to meet him in “a final attempt to form a right-wing government” and avoid “an unnecessary election.”
A Likud source said the sessions would be held later in the day and on Monday.
Parallel to the negotiations, Likud announced preparations for a possible national ballot, with November already touted by political analysts as a likely date.
Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar released a draft of a dissolution bill that he said he was submitting to parliament, but no date for a vote in the legislature was announced. Likud said its secretariat would meet on Tuesday “to prepare for an election.”
Some political commentators saw those moves as an attempt to pressure Likud’s negotiating partners into a deal, given the possibility of a voter backlash against another national ballot so soon after the previous one and the uncertainty of the election’s outcome in a country riven by divisions.
The scheduling of an election — and Likud could face an uphill battle for the necessary 61 votes in parliament to pass a dissolution resolution — would pre-empt a coalition-building assignment from Rivlin and ensure Netanyahu remains as interim prime minister until a new government is formed.
Already locked in a legal battle over his potential indictment in three corruption cases, Netanyahu has vowed to remain in office even if he is charged. He denies any wrongdoing and is scheduled to argue against indictment at a pre-trial hearing in October.