Turkey to focus on eastern bank of Euphrates in Syria

Manbij has always been a key district in the relations between the US and Turkey. (AFP)
Updated 27 October 2018

Turkey to focus on eastern bank of Euphrates in Syria

  • Erdogan states his priority is to end Kurdish dominance across his southern border

ANKARA: Turkey will not waste time on the northern Syrian city of Manbij, but will focus on the region to the east of the Euphrates River in Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Friday.
Addressing a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara, Erdogan underlined that the priority for Turkey was to clear the region of terrorists and return it to Syrian people.
He reiterated that new terror formations along Turkish borders were unacceptable and were a “red line” for domestic security.
Erdogan criticized the US for providing the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia with weapons and supplies. Ankara considers this group to be the Syrian offshoot of the PKK, which is listed as a terror group by NATO, the US and the EU.
YPG, the lead group in the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) alliance, controls almost all the region to the east of the Euphrates River, as well as Manbij district to the west, which was once in the hands of Daesh.
Stressing that Turkey would prefer not to enter into conflict with anyone, Erdogan warned that it was irrational for the US to choose a shady organization over Turkey.
“This is our last warning,” Erdogan also said.
Manbij has always been a key district in the strained relations between the two countries. A roadmap agreed between Turkey and the US in June requires the withdrawal of the YPG from Manbij, while the two countries committed to conduct joint patrols to monitor stability in the region.
Troops from the two NATO allies have recently begun training together before the start of joint patrols. The troops have been instructed on how to communicate, work and operate with each other by using the same military tactics.
According to Dr. Magdalena Kirchner, a senior analyst at Conias Risk Intelligence in Mannheim, Germany, Erdogan is using the current momentum to further reduce the influence of the Syrian Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) in the local administration and security forces.
“Given the heavy involvement of Turkey in other areas of northern Syria, another ground operation might be costly and politically risky — especially as it will increase concerns in Europe, where the question of hundreds of Western foreign fighters held in PYD prisons remains unsolved,” she told Arab News.
However, Kirchner, believes the upcoming elections in Turkey might change the country’s approach in Syria.
“It is not impossible that Turkey will escalate militarily in the border region if the increasing tensions between AKP and its nationalist ally the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) induce the government to enhance its nationalist profile ahead of the important local elections in March 2019,” she said.
MHP leader Devlet Bahceli, who previously formed an alliance with Erdogan ahead of the June presidential and parliamentary elections, announced on Tuesday that his party will not seek an alliance with AKP in the elections.
Oytun Orhan, a Syria analyst at the Ankara think-tank ORSAM, said that Erdogan’s statement was a sign that Turkey is losing faith in the implementation of the Manbij roadmap and does not have any expectations from the agreement with the US.
“Erdogan therefore implies that the US is wasting Turkey’s time with this deal. So it is time for Ankara to focus on other parts of Syria where terror groups are consolidating their power east of Euphrates river,” he said.
Experts also noted that Turkey has taken advantage of the current status quo following the Turkish-Russian deal for a demilitarized zone in Idlib, where threats from rebel groups have been reduced for the present.
According to Orhan, Turkey would most likely concentrate on an offensive against Tal Abyad, an Arab-majority town located to the north of Raqqa, near the Turkish border, which is currently under the control of the YPG militia.
As it is strategically located between the major cantons of Kobani and Qamishli, any operation against Tal Abyad would also gain the support of many Arab tribes who took refugee in Turkey during the civil war in Syria.
“The US has no military base in Tal Abyad, so there would be no risk of a direct clash with the American troops. If YPG withdraws from this town following a Turkish offensive, the geographical integrity of Kurdish regions in the north would be seriously disrupted,” Orhan noted.
“Such an operation against terror groups will also bear a psychological meaning, showing that the impunity of the eastern part of Euphrates will end for the regional actors.”


Experts analyze ‘Deal of the Century’ at Abu Dhabi strategic forum

Updated 16 min 29 sec ago

Experts analyze ‘Deal of the Century’ at Abu Dhabi strategic forum

  • Israeli-Palestinian conflict discussed on second and final day of Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate
  • Washington Institute’s David Makovsky says a solution ‘needs to give dignity to both parties’

ABU DHABI: On the second day of the Abu Dhabi Strategic Debate, experts on foreign-policy and security issues took part in an exhaustive discussion on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

As panelists in a session entitled “The Deal of the Century: Rewriting the Rules of the Regional Game,” they discussed the US role in the Israeli-Palestinian issue in the context of President Donald Trump’s promise during his 2016 election campaign to broker a deal that caters to the demands of both sides.

David Makovsky, Ziegler distinguished fellow and director of the project on Arab-Israel relations at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said that for a solution to work, it “needs to give dignity to both parties.”

Referring to the phrase “The deal of the Century,” Makovsky said that it was not coined by the US or the Trump administration, and was in effect first used at a press conference in the Middle East.

While the deal’s political components remain a mystery, Makovsky said the economic elements consisted of “raising around $50 billion from affluent countries in the region, in the form of loans, grants and investments.”

According to him, “most of it will be spent in Palestine, some in Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon, to support infrastructure and business projects.”

However, the economic elements remain “a part of a package of five core issues” known as the “final status,” said Makovsky.

They include “borders, Jerusalem, refugees, and mutual recognition of the other state,” he added, pointing out that the issues had not yet been fleshed out.

“They are waiting for a new government in Israel but this late in the cycle of the first administration, with US elections coming up in 2020, they will put out a vision and not a plan.”

He said a vision would lay out US ideas in 60 to 70 pages, with the presumption that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas would reject it.

“At the minimum, it is a historic reference point,” said Makovsky, who went on to express his disagreement with the “all or nothing” approach taken by the Trump administration with regard to Middle Eastern issues.

“If you say yes on the five issues, you get 178 economic projects. My fear is in the Middle East, when it is all or nothing, it is nothing.”

As part of the same panel discussion, Dr. Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland said previous US administrations, including that of President Barack Obama, had failed to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict simply because “the issue has become less strategically important” to the US.

“Never has a US president since the end of the Cold War made the (Israeli-Palestinian issue) a top priority,” he said.