How will Ankara react to oil deal with Syrian Kurds?

A member of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) runs for cover during shelling on the Islamic State group's last holdout of Baghouz, in the eastern Syrian Deir Ezzor province on March 3, 2019. (AFP)
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Updated 02 August 2020

How will Ankara react to oil deal with Syrian Kurds?

  • The SDF needs to continue to build ties with the United States, and this oil deal strengthens the ties between the SDF and the US

ANKARA: A surprise deal between American Delta Crescent Energy LLC oil company and the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the development of oil fields in northeastern Syria has sparked concerns about the reaction from Ankara.

One of the key disagreements between Turkey and the US on Syria has been about the latter’s local cooperation with the SDF.

But Ankara has reportedly kept silent about this deal and not reacted negatively, according to the Al-Monitor news portal, despite the SDF being considered a terror group and a political extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) by Ankara.

The deal was reportedly made “with the acknowledgement and encouragement of the White House” with Republican Senator Lindsey Graham having engaged in talks with SDF leader Mazlum Kobani for the development of oil fields in the region by the American company.

Syria’s oil supply is concentrated on the northeastern part of the country, especially in Qamishli and Deir ez Zor, which are controlled by the Kurdish-led autonomous administration.

The Kurdish-led SDF began withdrawing from Turkish-Syrian border zones last October in accordance with a deal brokered by Russia and Turkey. They were then redeployed to new positions about 30 km from the border in northeast Syria.

On July 10, Kobani met the top commander of US forces in the Middle East, Gen. Frank McKenzie, in northeast Syria to discuss regional issues.

Joe Macaron, a Middle East foreign policy analyst at the Washington-based Arab Center, said that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will not jeopardize his good relationship with US President Donald Trump — in arenas from Syria to Libya — for an inevitable US oil contract in SDF-controlled areas in Syria when he knows how important oil is for Trump.

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Syria’s oil supply is concentrated on the northeastern part of the country, especially in Qamishli and Deir ez Zor, which are controlled by the Kurdish-led autonomous administration.

“Ankara has made clear strategic gains in Syria and Libya thanks to US support and has managed to push Kurdish forces away from its border while altering the dynamics in Libya and the Eastern Mediterranean,” he told Arab News.

However, Macaron thinks that Erdogan can always bring up the issue at a later stage if the Trump administration shifts policy in Syria or if Trump loses the election. Not reacting now does not mean that Ankara will not make an issue of it in the future.

“This is an official deal between the company and the SDF. The Americans have a plan for this area but we don’t know any detail about the contract. It is the reason why Ankara did not react strongly as the deal is not clear,” Navvar Saban, a military analyst from the Istanbul-based Omran Center for Strategic Studies, told Arab News.

According to Saban, the vision of the US about the region and on the oil issue had changed in favor of long-term investments.

Nicholas A. Heras, Middle East security program manager at the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War, thinks the deal is more important to the SDF than it is to the Americans, which is probably why Ankara has not reacted strongly.

“The SDF needs to continue to build ties with the United States, and this oil deal strengthens the ties between the SDF and the US,” he told Arab News.

According to Heras, Ankara seems to be calculating that because Syrian oil reserves are not large, and this deal is relatively small, if the Turks wanted to pursue further military action in northeast Syria this deal would not cause Washington to stop them.

Ruwan Al-Rejoleh, an independent analyst in Washington, DC, relates this deal with attempts by the US to facilitate intra Kurdish talks and Kurdish-Turkish indirect talks on the Syrian front to reach a settlement for groups in northeast Syria before the US withdrawal.

“President Erdogan offered Russia and US a proposal to use the oil revenues in Syria for reconstruction purposes that can be overseen through an international body but not in any way accepting or allowing the oil revenues to strengthen the local authority of SDF in northeastern Syria,” she told Arab News.

Noting that James Jeffery, special US representative for Syria engagement, had reportedly informed Turkey about the oil deal and that Ankara had not reacted negatively, Al-Rejoleh thinks that there is a certain level of understanding between Washington and Ankara about the deal.

“The devil is in the detail; it is important to look at the fields that are included in the deal as well as Russia’s position. Russia didn’t express a position yet, however. Moscow is keen on the balancing act in a way to ensure that Syrians who live outside the SDF-led area will get their share from the oil revenue,” she said.

But, according to Al-Rejoleh, this deal doesn’t seem designed to empower the local governance authority of the SDF but rather to create an international understanding and platform, where a political deal can be reached through a shared economic platform of the oil revenues among local and international actors.

 


Seth Rogen’s Israel comments highlight fraught diaspora ties

Palestinian firefighters try to extinguish a fire after an Israeli airstrike, on a floor in a building that also houses international media offices in Gaza City. (Reuters/File)
Updated 08 August 2020

Seth Rogen’s Israel comments highlight fraught diaspora ties

  • Jewish comedians’ conversation on Israel spark an uproar

TEL AVIV: It began as a lighthearted conversation between two Jewish comedians, riffing on a podcast about the idiosyncrasies of their shared heritage. But after talk turned to Israel, it didn’t take long for Marc Maron and Seth Rogen to spark an uproar.

Their comments about Israel — especially Rogen saying the country “doesn’t make sense” — infuriated many Israel supporters and highlighted the country’s tenuous relationship with young, progressive Jewish critics in the diaspora.
Israel has long benefited from financial and political support from American Jews. But in recent years the country has faced a groundswell of opposition from young progressives, disillusioned by Israel’s aggressive West Bank settlement building, its perceived exclusion of liberal streams of Judaism and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cosy relationship with President Donald Trump.
“What Seth Rogen said is par for the course among our generation and the Israeli government has to wake up and see that their actions have consequences,” said Yonah Lieberman, spokesman for If Not Now, an American Jewish organization opposed to Israel’s entrenched occupation of the West Bank.
Rogen’s remarks follow a dramatic shift by an influential Jewish American commentator who recently endorsed the idea of a democratic entity of Jews and Palestinians living with equal rights on the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. Peter Beinart’s argument that a two-state solution — Israel and Palestine — is no longer possible sent shock waves through the Jewish establishment and Washington policymaking circles.
For many Jews, Israel is an integral part of their identity, on religious grounds or as an insurance policy in the wake of the Holocaust and in a modern age of resurgent anti-Semitism. But polls have shown that while most American Jews identify with Israel and feel a connection to the country, that support has waned over recent years, especially among millennials.
Some have even embraced the Palestinian-led movement calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel to protest what it says is Israeli oppression of Palestinians. Israel accuses the movement of waging a campaign to delegitimize its very existence.

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Their comments about Israel — especially Rogen saying the country ‘doesn’t make sense’ — highlighted the country’s tenuous relationship with young, progressive Jewish critics in the diaspora.

In the podcast, Rogen, who appeared in such smash comedies as “Superbad” and “Knocked Up,” talked about attending Jewish schools and Jewish summer camp while growing up in Vancouver. He said his parents met on an Israeli kibbutz.
As they continued to chat, Rogen appeared to question why Israel was established.
“You don’t keep all your Jews in one basket. I don’t understand why they did that. It makes no sense whatsoever,” Rogen said. “You don’t keep something you’re trying to preserve all in one place especially when that place has proven to be pretty volatile. I’m trying to keep all these things safe. I’m going to put them in my blender and hope that that’s the best place to, that’ll do it.”
Rogen then said he was “fed a huge amount of lies” about Israel during his youth. “They never tell you that ‘oh, by the way, there were people there.’ They make it seem like, ‘the (expletive) door’s open.’”
Maron and Rogen both joked about how frightened they were about the responses they would receive from Israel’s defenders. Their concerns were justified.
Rogen’s comments immediately lit up “Jewish Twitter.” They unleashed a flurry of critical op-eds in Jewish and Israeli media. And they prompted Rogen to call Isaac Herzog, the head of the Jewish Agency, a major nonprofit that works to foster relations between Israel and the Jewish world.
In a Facebook post, Herzog said he and Rogen had a frank and open conversation. He said Rogen “was misunderstood and apologized” for his comments.
“I told him that many Israelis and Jews around the world were personally hurt by his statement, which implies the denial of Israel’s right to exist,” Herzog wrote.
In an interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz, Rogen said he called Herzog at the urging of his mother and he denied apologizing. He said the comments were made in jest and misconstrued.
“I don’t want Jews to think that I don’t think Israel should exist. And I understand how they could have been led to think that,” he said.
Rogen also said he is a “proud Jew.” He said his criticism was aimed at the education he received, and he believed he could have been given a deeper picture of a “complex” situation.
Ironically, Rogen was on the podcast to promote his new movie, “An American Pickle,” about a Jewish immigrant to the US at the start of the 20th century who falls into a vat of pickle brine and emerges 100 years later. He called the project a “very Jewish film.”
Lieberman, from If Not Now, said the uproar shows “how much the conversation has changed” about Israel among American Jews.
Shmuel Rosner, a senior fellow with the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, said Israel should not be expected to change its “security and foreign policies” based on growing estrangement from Jews overseas.
But he said it can take realistic steps to close the gap, such as establishing a pluralistic prayer site at the Western Wall, long a sticking point between Israel’s Orthodox establishment and more liberal Jews in the US
“It’s a challenge for Israel. It’s inconvenient. We want everyone to love us, especially other Jews,” he said. “Israel can do certain things to make it somewhat better.”