Turkey poised for new Syria military operation as talks restart with US on safe zone

Russia and the US have been informed about the imminent Turkish operation in northeastern Syria. (AFP)
Updated 06 August 2019

Turkey poised for new Syria military operation as talks restart with US on safe zone

  • President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Sunday that his country’s forces would carry out operations in an area controlled by Kurdish YPG militia

ANKARA: Turkey on Monday remained poised for military action in northeastern Syria as critical talks got underway again with the US over the establishment of safe zone in the region.

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced on Sunday that his country’s forces would carry out operations in an area controlled by Kurdish YPG militia, as several high-level diplomats warned that Turkish patience had run out.

Turkish-backed Syrian rebels were recently killed during clashes with the YPG.

Russia and the US have been informed about the imminent operation that would be Turkey’s third such offensive into Syria. 

“We entered Afrin, Jarablus, and Al-Bab. Now we will enter the east of the Euphrates,” Erdogan said.

However, the US State Department responded on the same day, warning Ankara against taking uncoordinated military action, particularly as American personnel could be there.

The announcement came on the eve of a new round of negotiations between Turkish and American military officials in Ankara on the creation of a safe zone.

Oytun Orhan, coordinator of Syria studies at the Ankara-based think-tank ORSAM, said the threat of a Turkish military operation had been aimed at enhancing Ankara’s bargaining position with the US to secure the best possible deal and show its determination over the issue.

“However, Ankara expects a deeper safe zone where the military control is totally in its hands, and where Turkish-backed political elements become much more efficient,” Orhan told Arab News.

Turkey’s National Security Council met last Tuesday to discuss a possible military offensive into Syria against the YPG which the country accuses of being affiliated with the PKK terror group that has waged a decades-long insurgency against the Turkish state.

Ankara sees the presence of the YPG as a security threat that could exploit the power vacuum in the Syrian territory and intends to create a 32 km safe zone in the region clear of Kurdish forces.

But, in the stalled safe-zone negotiations between Turkey and the US, Washington now proposes a more restricted security zone of 5 km to 14 km, with heavy weapons drawn back.

Thousands of Turkish soldiers, along with tanks and armor, have been deployed along the Syrian border over recent days.

However, any unilateral operation poses a significant risk with both parties still struggling to find a compromise over the Kurds: Washington supports the YPG and is against any Turkish military action in the area.

Orhan said that, after notifying Washington, Turkish armed forces could take possession of some settlements along the border avoiding any clashes with American forces whose numbers have already been cut and who are mostly settled in US bases in Syria.

“Some strategic hills, towns such as Tal Abyad and its southern towns with a high density of Arab population may become first targets of such an operation. Such a move will cut the geographic continuity between the settlements held by the YPG. It will also push Washington to revise its current negotiation position,”
he added.

However, considering the de-facto no-fly zone of the US over northeastern Syria, any Turkish operation in the region would not require aerial support as it would be conducted in nearby settlements within missile and artillery range, experts noted.

Dr. Nicholas Danforth, visiting senior fellow at the US German Marshall Fund think tank, said that negotiations between Turkey and the US had been hindered by the discrepancy between Turkey’s stated desire for a safe zone that will keep its border safe and its deeper strategic interest in occupying enough of the region to prevent the emergence of an autonomous Kurdish statelet.

“The deeper the incursion the deeper the ensuing rift between Ankara and Washington,” he told Arab News.

Some experts also argue that the defeat of the YPG by a Turkish operation may lead to the formation of a new Syrian Democratic Forces with non-YPG elements which could cooperate with Turkey, while suggestions for Ankara to cooperate with Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime for any eventual offensive in northeastern Syria are also being discussed among prominent experts in Turkey.

“Ironically, so far, the US has proved more supportive of a safe zone than any other actors in the region, including Russia and Syria. Even if America left tomorrow, Ankara would face a choice between permanently occupying the region and turning it over to Damascus,” Danforth said.

“Both of these would forestall the creation of a PKK-dominated statelet, but not necessarily bring Ankara a lasting victory against the PKK.”

Russian envoy seeks to break ‘suffocating’ Beirut deadlock

Updated 30 September 2020

Russian envoy seeks to break ‘suffocating’ Beirut deadlock

  • Moscow move comes after Iran-backed factions block Macron reforms

BEIRUT: Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov will visit Lebanon to discuss support for the crisis-hit country following the failure of French efforts to form an independent Lebanese government.

Bogdanov, the Russian president’s special envoy for the Middle East and North Africa, told Lebanese Democratic Party (LDP) leader Talal Arslan on Tuesday that “efforts and dialogue are needed to reach a solution that gets Lebanon out of the suffocating crisis it is going through.” 

In a meeting in Moscow on Monday, Bogdanov told Lebanese Ambassador Shawki Bou Nassar that he will visit Beirut in late October for talks with senior officials. 

It will be the first visit by a Russian official since the Beirut port blast on Aug. 4 devastated large areas of the capital and plunged the country into political turmoil.

The Russian move follows the failure of French President Emmanuel Macron’s efforts to form an independent Lebanese government and introduce reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to help the country avoid a financial and economic meltdown.

Last Sunday, Macron gave Lebanese officials a six-week deadline to form a new government, accusing Lebanese leaders of betraying their pledges to him during a high-profile visit to Beirut in early September.

The accusations were directed at the Iran-backed Hezbollah and Amal Movement factions over obstruction of Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib’s plans for a new government.

Both factions were widely criticized in the wake of Adib’s resignation on Saturday and accused of sabotaging the French initiative.

On Monday, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said that Tehran rejected claims of “external interference in Lebanon’s affairs.”

Amal Movement said that Macron’s accusations, as well as attempts to blame Amal Movement and Hezbollah, “are far from the facts and the realities of discussions with the prime Minister-designate.”

The political faction said that its leader, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, “is at the forefront of those keen to preserve Lebanon’s stability and the unity of its people.”

Berri’s political aide, former minister Ali Hassan Khalil, has been been hit by US sanctions on a string of charges, including corruption.

Zafer Nasser, secretary-general of the Progressive Socialist Party, told Arab News that the objectives of Bogdanov’s visit remain unclear and Lebanon must continue to support Macron’s efforts.

“The French initiative is our last chance and we must hold on to it,” he said.

With Lebanon’s central bank expected to begin reducing subsidies for the import of hydrocarbons in coming weeks, gas stations around the country experienced shortages on Tuesday due to delays in imports.

According to a representative of the Gas Station Owners Syndicate, George Brax, a partial reduction of subsidies will raise the price of a can of gasoline to between 37,000 and 40,000 Lebanese pounds, while with a total reduction, it will reach between 65,000 and 70,000 Lebanese pounds.

“If the dollar exchange rate continues to rise, the price of a can of gasoline may reach 85,000 Lebanese pounds,” he said.