- As the curtains were about to be closed on 2022, Türkiye and Syria’s defence and intelligence chiefs met in Moscow under the auspices of the Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu – the first such meeting in over a decade.
- This December 28 meeting immediately triggered speculations that a Turkish-Syrian rapprochement was imminent – with meetings scheduled between foreign ministers and later, heads of state in early 2023.
- Russia indicated there were plans for the Syrian and Turkish foreign ministers to meet, which will hopefully pave the way for the meeting between Turkish president, Tayyip Recep Erdogan and Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad either in Russia or the UAE.
- The meeting of the foreign ministers of Syria and Türkiye finally took place on May 10 in Moscow, under the mediation of Russia and Iran.
- At the meeting, Russia, Iran, Türkiye and Syria agreed to generate a roadmap for the normalisation of relations between Ankara and Damascus.
- These countries “agreed to instruct their deputy foreign ministers to draw up a road map to promote relations between Türkiye and Syria in coordination with the defence ministries and intelligence services of the four countries,”the Russian Foreign Ministry said in an official note.
- “The ministers noted a positive and constructive atmosphere of the exchange of views and agreed to maintain high-level contacts and four-way technical negotiations”.
- Sergey Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, said that ‘the best result’ after this ministerial meeting ‘could be an agreement to instruct experts to prepare a road map for Syrian-Turkish normalisation for the next ministerial meeting’.
- Lavrov himself advocated a return to an ‘unimpeded’ economic and trade relationship between Türkiye and Syria.
- Thus, we can see that Russia, just like China, are immersing themselves in painstaking efforts to be the peacemakers of the Islamic world.
- In fact, many analysts and countries were caught by surprise at the rapprochements between Iran and Saudi Arabia brokered by China, and between Syria and Türkiye brokered by Russia.
- Whereas the diplomacy feat scored by China was done in utmost secrecy during a five-day meeting in Beijing, the one scored by Russia was an open one preceded by the defence ministers’ meeting in Moscow presided by Shoigu.
- In both cases, the US, with its Carter Doctrine that the Middle East is its own exclusive sphere of influence, was caught with its pants down.
- Both rapprochements are emblematic of a regional realignment that no longer sees the US as the only party in their calculations and is a harbinger of greater autonomy and independence of Middle East countries over their own affairs.
- It is also the result of the regional players’ eagerness to bring in global powers that have enough political capital and leverage with ALL sides to function as effective guarantors of regional stability.
- This makes the US unqualified for the above purpose because it does not have enough political capital and leverage with at least two regional players – Iran and Syria.
- Already its response to the Syrian-Türkiye rapprochement was rather confrontational.
- On Jan 3, US State Department spokesman Ned Price reiterated the US long-standing opposition to “countries upgrading their relations or expressing support to rehabilitate” the Assad’s regime.
- “We urge states to carefully consider the Assad regime’s atrocious human rights record the past 12 years as it continues to inflict atrocities on the Syrian people and to deny access to lifesaving humanitarian aid.
- “We’ve made very clear to all of our allies and partners that now is not the time to normalise relations, now is not the time to upgrade relations.”
- It seems the US idea of “peace-making” is to let the status quo remain so that Syria will forever remain a failed state, and the sufferings of the Syrian people remain in perpetuity.
- This will be a good guarantee for the US to remain entrenched in perpetuity in the richest part of Syria in order to continue stealing its oils and agricultural harvests.
- Much to the chagrin of the US, its “ultimatum” not to normalise relations with Syria has fallen on deaf ears from all its allies and partners in the Middle East.
- Guided by the Islamic maxim that it is a meritorious act to pacify and mediate between two or more conflicting parties especially among brothers so that they will be at peace among themselves, the Arab League at its meeting in Cairo, Egypt on May 7 voted to reinstate Syria’s membership after its suspension more than 10 years ago, underlining the thawing relations between Damascus and other Arab countries.
- In line with the adage that there’s always a silver lining in any tragedy, and that you don’t trample further on your brother who’s experiencing severe difficulties, the tragic earthquake of February 2023 accelerated the restoration of Syria’s ties with Arab states in the region.
- The UAE foreign minister was among the first to visit Damascus, while the foreign ministers of Jordan and Egypt visited Syria for the first time in the years of conflict, and the Egyptian president had his first telephone conversation with his Syrian peer.
- Saudi Arabia, for the first time, sent several planes with humanitarian aid to Syria, whereas Assad visited Oman for the first time since the inception of the civil war.
- Just like its handling of the Ukraine war, the US often ignores the changing reality on the ground where two significant developments have occurred since 2018.
- The first is that the fight against ISIS for all intent and purpose, is over, as it is no longer a force to be reckoned with in Syria.
- Former US president Donald Trump was the first to announce this in 2018 claiming total credit for the US victory against ISIS, when the truth is all parties in the Syrian war have contributed to the victory.
- But the crux of the matter is this: When an extremist organisation like ISIS has a core principle of being the enemy to all and a friend to none, its existence will be short-lived. It has been decimated by its very own principle, so to speak.
- There is nothing Islamic about the principle of “an enemy to all and a friend to none”, although ISIS carried the “Islamic” label, and that’s why its victory in controlling a significant swathe of lands lasted for a mere three to four years out of the total 12 years of the Syrian war.
- And the second development is that the ground reality has shifted in favour of Assad.
- As of 31 March 2020, Assad’s Syrian Armed Forces held 63.57% of Syrian territories; the US backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), 25.57%; rebel groups including the Turkish backed Hay‘at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) and Türkiye, 9.72%; and ISIS, 1.14%.
- By the beginning of 2023, Assad would have controlled more than 64% of Syrian territories. In fact, the Idlib province near the border with Türkiye is the last stronghold of the anti-Assad Islamist opposition in north-western Syria, where the HTS is based.
- With the US being too fixated with the Ukraine war and containing China, its focus on the Middle East keeps shrinking.
- With a rather substantial military presence and operational capabilities in the region, Washington is now less and less willing to get involved in regional issues.
- Perhaps this is due to the failure of its massive shock and awe sanctions on Russia which has boomeranged massively on its own economy, which experts are predicting will undergo a recession soon.
- Other reason for the US shying away from involving in the Middle East could also be due to the “demilitarisation” of its armed forces where with the exception of nuclear weapons, the US has more than sufficient weapons and ammunitions to only defend itself because all of its surplus weapons and ammunitions have gone to Ukraine to be destroyed by Russia.
- And to make matter worse, its military-industrial complex (MIC) is undergoing a sort of “de-industrialisation”, where it could no longer produced weapons and ammunitions as fast as the Pentagon wants it, forcing the US to appeal to South Korea and Japan for assistance in a speedy delivery of ammunition shells to Ukraine.
- This ironically is brought about by globalisation, which was spurred by the US but has resulted in the offshoring of the supply chains for its MIC to mostly China and India.
- The idea of onshoring of its supply chains back to the US is now gaining traction and momentum but this will take time.
- Hence, these developments lead to the inevitably growing autonomy and activity of almost all states in the Middle East, which is in tune with their aspiration for greater autonomy over their own affairs.
- And that is why Washington’s traditional partners in the region are now pursuing a more autonomous policy as compared to that of 8-10 years ago, promoting their national interests, diversifying their portfolios of partnerships and hedging their risks.
- Also quite telling in this regard is the important statement of the Saudi foreign minister, Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud at the Munich Security Conference in February, who said that “isolation and the policy of status quo do not work with regard to Syria and a dialogue with Damascus will be necessary sooner or later”.
- The Syrian war is a complex and multifaceted conflict with numerous actors, interests, and dynamics, not to mention of its highly intricate and constantly evolving situation.
- Thus, making sense of such a conflict requires understanding its historical context, key players, underlying causes, and ongoing dynamics.
- A wide array of actors are involved, including the Syrian government led by Assad, opposition groups, jihadist organisations like ISIS, Kurdish forces, regional powers like Türkiye, Iran, and Saudi Arabia, and international actors such as the US and Russia.
- The roots of the conflict can be traced back to the Arab Spring in 2011 when peaceful protests demanding political reforms erupted in Syria.
- The government’s violent crackdown on protesters led to an armed rebellion and spiralled into a full-scale civil war.
- The conflict initially started as a battle between the Syrian government and various opposition groups seeking political change.
- It quickly grew complex as multiple groups emerged with varying objectives and allegiances. Initially, the opposition was a motley collection of both secular and Islamist factions, and Kurdish militias with differing ideologies and goals, thus making the conflict multi-faceted.
- Over time, jihadist groups like ISIS emerged and gained significant territory, complicating the situation further.
- The conflict also attracted significant international involvement. Various countries and non-state actors have supported different factions, often based on their own geopolitical interests.
- Russia, for instance, has provided extensive support to the Syrian government, while the US and some Western nations have supported rebel groups and Kurdish forces.
- Regional powers like Iran and Türkiye have also been involved, supporting different factions. This external support escalated the conflict and prolonged the war.
- The war has resulted in a severe humanitarian crisis. Thousands of civilians have been killed, and millions have been displaced internally or as refugees.
- There have been numerous reports of human rights abuses, and war crimes committed by multiple parties to the conflict, including the use of chemical weapons.
- The Syrian war has also taken on aspects of a proxy war, with various countries using the conflict as a battleground to pursue their own interests, complicating efforts to reach a resolution and prolonged the conflict.
- The situation is highly fluid and has evolved over time. Different alliances have formed and shifted, with territorial gains and losses by various factions.
- The conflict has also become increasingly complicated with the involvement of multiple extremist groups, making it challenging to find a resolution.
- Compounding the problem further, the war also has significant sectarian dimensions. President Assad belongs to the Alawite sect, an offshoot of Shia Islam, while a large portion of the opposition is Sunni.
- Syria is a diverse country with a complex mix of ethnic and religious groups – the Arab Spring protests had already exacerbated existing tensions, particularly between the Sunni Arab majority and the Alawite-dominated government.
- On top of this, the Kurdish population has also sought greater autonomy, exacerbating tensions with other groups.
- The war has had significant regional implications too. It has fuelled sectarian tensions and contributed to the rise of extremist groups in the region.
- Neighbouring countries are also affected with an influx of refugees, cross-border attacks, and the involvement of regional powers.
- International diplomatic efforts have been made to resolve the conflict, including negotiations in Geneva and Astana, as well as the establishment of de-escalation zones.
- However, finding a lasting solution has proven challenging due to the divergent interests of various actors involved.
- The US, Russia, Iran and Türkiye entered the war for various reasons associated with their national interests.
- Russia, Iran and Türkiye can be considered as a sort of sharing the same backyard with Syria, and hence it is very understandable for them to be concerned about the war, as it is bound to affect them.
- But the same cannot be said of the US which is thousands of miles away from Syria. It flexed its muscles from afar as a hegemon, being the sole superpower of a unipolar world.
- There is a contradiction here in that at the outset of the war, former US president Barack Obama had said Syria holds no strategic interest for the US.
- However, as the Arab Spring movement was unleashed by the US neo-cons in 2011, the US was the first to be “present” in Syria to monitor and ensure that the peaceful protests engendered by the Arab Spring will result in a regime change to a western liberal democracy.
- Syrian president Bashar al-Assad played into the hands of the neo-cons by his violent crackdown on protesters that led to an armed rebellion and spiralled into a full-scale civil war.
- This becomes clear when the US began providing non-lethal aid and support to opposition groups in Syria soon after the Arab Spring protest began. Isn’t this a blatant interference in another country’s internal affair?
- Or could this be due to the impatience to see Syria turned into a regime of western liberal democracy?
- Before even the use of chemical weapons became an issue in 2013, Obama, out of the blue in 2012, warned the Syrian government that the use of chemical weapons would cross a “red line” and triggered a significant response from the US.
- This is quite troubling as it implies that the US as early as 2012 seemed to “know” that chemical weapons would be used later in the war, and to boot, not necessarily by the Syrian government.
- But when chemical attacks finally occurred in August 2013, such as the one in Ghouta, Obama, despite his red line, chose not to send troops into Syria.
- Is this a case of being conscience-stricken perhaps?
- Maybe not, as the depth and sophistication of Syria’s air defences due to anti-aircraft weapons sent by Russia was cited as a major reason for the US decision not to intervene militarily or impose a no-fly zone despite a publicly voiced commitment to do so if the Assad government crossed the “red line” of using chemical weapons.
- Direct military involvement began in September 2014 with the formation of a US-led coalition, known as Combined Joint Task Force, to combat ISIS.
- In October 2015, the US expanded its role by deploying a small number of Special Operations Forces to Syria, with the primary mission of advice, assist, and train local forces in the fight against ISIS.
- But the strange thing about the whole thing is that it is fine if you want to fight ISIS in Syria but since Syria has its own legitimate government, where is your courtesy in not asking permission from the Syrian government to fight against ISIS there, especially when you have already decided not to intervene militarily despite your earlier pledge to intervene?
- So much for the rule-based world order often touted by the US, which we now seldom hear recently!
- Somehow the US was trying to give the impression that it is the ONLY one fighting against ISIS there when the truth is all parties in the Syrian war were also fighting against ISIS, including the Syrian government!
- This is where the Russian and Iranian entry to the Syrian war is very different from the US. Both the Russian and the Iranians were officially invited by Assad in 2015 to assist Syria in the civil war.
- And since before the war these two countries were allies of Syria, they responded to the invitation by helping and backing the Syrian army.
- What about Türkiye’s entry into the war?
- Ankara has consistently placed combating the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) at the top of its policy priorities in Syria.
- PKK is a Kurdish militant political organisation and armed guerrilla movement which historically operated throughout Kurdistan but is now primarily based in the mountainous Kurdish-majority regions of south-eastern Türkiye and northern Iraq.
- Since 1984, the PKK has utilised asymmetric warfare in the Kurdish-Turkish conflict with several ceasefires between 1993 and 2013-15.
- Although the PKK initially sought an independent Kurdish state, in the 1990s its goals changed to seeking autonomy and greater political and cultural rights for Kurds within Türkiye.
- The PKK is designated as a terrorist organisation by Türkiye, the US, the EU and some other countries; however, the labelling is controversial, and some analysts and organisations contend that it no longer engages in organised terrorist activities or systemically targets civilians.
- Türkiye has often viewed, rather unfairly in your editor’s opinion, the demand for education in Kurdish as supporting terrorist activities by the PKK.
- Both in 2008 and 2018 the Court of Justice of the EU ruled that the PKK was classified as a terror organisation without due process. Nevertheless, the EU has still maintained the designation. What a hypocrisy!
- In the Syrian war, the PKK in the form of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in Syria is the US ally.
- The SDF is composed mainly of the Syrian Kurdish forces of the People’s Defense Units (YPG) linked to the PKK.
- While fighting against Syria, Türkiye and ISIS, the SDF allied itself with the US.
- And the US, an ally of Türkiye in Nato, has no qualm in supporting the SDF, an enemy of Türkiye.
- Instead of trying to be a peacemaker between Türkiye and the SDF, the US will always say that any Turkish attack on the SDF created a destabilising development in the US fight against ISIS.
- The US insisted a Turkish incursion would also have impacted US national security interests because the Pentagon maintains a small force of 900 special forces in northeast Syria working with the SDF.
- But it never even considered the Turkish perspective that the US support for the SDF also created the same destabilising situation for Türkiye in its fight against ISIS.
- This US stance is the classic “divide and rule” mentality of the colonialists during the colonial period.
- The price that the US must pay for this divide and rule policy is enormous. Frustrated with Washington’s support for the SDF, Türkiye is turning more and more to Russia.
- In fact, we can say that this frustration with Washington has facilitated Türkiye-Russia cooperation in Syria, which is also reflected in the excellent relationship that Erdogan has with Russian president, Vladimir Putin.
- And who knows Türkiye’s reluctance to approve Swedish membership of Nato has to do with this frustration and betrayal of Türkiye by the US?
- In the end, it is not only Türkiye that has been betrayed. In Dec 2018, president Donald Trump announced the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, citing the defeat of ISIS as the primary reason.
- This decision faced criticism, and the timeline and scale of the withdrawal were subsequently adjusted to 2020, although partial withdrawal had begun.
- This left the fate of the US-backed SDF in limbo due to this withdrawal.
- Again this is a classic US stance of abandoning friends in time of their need (seen too in the withdrawal of US troops in Afghanistan).
- There is also another dimension of the US presence in Syria despite the announced withdrawal.
- On 30 July 2020, the US backed SDF, perhaps to entice the US not to withdraw its troops in Syria, signed an agreement with a US oil company, Delta Crescent Energy LLC, to develop oil fields in the region.
- The Syrian government condemned the agreement, saying that “this agreement is null and void and has no legal basis”. Seizing oil without local government permission would be a war crime of pillage.
- It took a year later on February 10 for the US to clarify on the oil issue when Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby told reporters that US troops were not committed to protecting Syrian oil fields except “for where appropriate under certain existing authorisations to protect civilians,” adding that “DOD [Department of Defence] personnel or contractors are not authorised to provide assistance to any other private company, including its employees or agents, seeking to develop oil resources in north-eastern Syria.”
- However, there were reports from local sources in north-eastern Syria that US forces had transported oil and wheat smuggled from Syria to Iraq.
- Hence, despite the announced withdrawal in 2018, up to this day (five years later) the Pentagon still maintains a small force of 900 special forces with few hundreds contractors in north-east Syria.
- It must have been “fun” to loot Syrian oils and agricultural harvests!
- Abandoned by the US to be left alone to face the Turkish onslaught, the leader of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), Mazloum Abdi, on June 5, 2022 said he is willing to work with Syrian government forces to defend against Türkiye.
- Saying that “Damascus should use its air defence systems against Turkish planes,” Abdi said that Kurdish groups would be able to cooperate with the Syrian government, and still retain their autonomy.
- A month later, the SDF and the official Syrian military forged active plans to coordinate actively together to create defence plans to guard against invasion by Türkiye.
- The joint coordination was a result of the negotiation processes that had begun in October 2019, in the wake of the announced US withdrawal.
- By the end of 2022, active fighting in the conflict between the Syrian government and rebel groups had mostly subsided, with the only flashpoint being Türkiye’s incursion in north-west Syria.
- Türkiye was continuing its attacks on various militias within Syria, consisting mostly of the People’s Defense Units (YPG), the military armed of the SDF linked to the PKK.
- One stated goal was to create “safe zones” along Türkiye ‘s border with Syria, according to a statement by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
- The operations were generally aimed at the Tal Rifaat and Manbij regions west of the Euphrates and other areas further east.
- Erdogan openly stated his support for the operations, in talks with Moscow in mid-2022.
- In late November, Erdogan declared an aerial bombing campaign as just the beginning, emphasising that Turkish forces would attack by land “as soon as possible” and at “the most convenient time for us.”
- Western analysts were then predicting this flare-up of the situation in Syria will once again see the Syrian war entered another leg of intense fighting with all its dire consequences.
- But thanks to Russian constructive and positive intervention in the form of a meeting on December 28 between Türkiye and Syria’s defence and intelligence chiefs in Moscow under the auspices of the Russian Minister of Defence Sergei Shoigu, this didn’t happen.
- In fact, it led to a rapprochement between the two countries which saw a meeting of the foreign ministers of the two countries in Moscow in May, brokered by Russia and Iran.
- With ISIS decimated, the US and its western allies neutralised, the opposition reconciled with the Assad government, all that is left for a lasting peace in Syria is a meeting between President Erdogan and President Bashar al-Assad.
- There are big challenges for this meeting to take place. While Erdogan has been looking forward to the meeting, Assad has laid down a pre-condition.
- According to Assad, the meeting with Erdogan is possible only “when Türkiye is clearly and unambiguously ready, without any uncertainties or caveats, for a full withdrawal [of the Turkish military] from Syria, for putting an end to the support of terrorists and getting back to the status quo that had existed prior to the commencement of hostilities in Syria.”
- But Ankara has its own priorities and logic, and this pertains to, among other things, resolving the Kurdish issue and defining the status of the Kurdish armed detachments which are viewed by Türkiye as terrorists; the return of Syrian refugees to their homes; and the political process, reforms and reconciliation with the opposition.
- Overcoming these points of discord is a complicated process. Ankara will not withdraw its armed forces from Syria without guarantees on its priority issues, primarily on the solution of the Kurdish problem.
- As for the return of Syrian refugees from Türkiye (about 3.5 million people), despite this being agreed by both Moscow and Damascus, they are not ready for the mass-scale return of Syrians to their homes for several serious reasons.
- In the first place, the difficult socio-economic situation in Syria implies in the short term, the Syrian government does not have the appropriate infrastructure and sufficient economic resources to accommodate large numbers of returning refugees.
- Moreover, the cost of supporting and reintegrating millions of refugees would place an unsustainable burden on Syria’s weak economy and could lead to its collapse.
- Also, anti-government sentiments persist among those refugees, so compact residence of marginalised masses would pose risks of increased instability and protests, fuelling the black market and threatening social stability.
- Finally, the regions of Syria along the border with Türkiye are not ready for the adaptation and integration of new returnees.
- To make things even worse, in the run-up to the May elections in Türkiye, Syria is aware that progress in the Syrian-Turkish normalisation can help Erdogan score extra points. That is probably why Assad is in no hurry to meet with Erdogan.
- This is where your editor feels Assad lacks a broad picture. Syria and Türkiye are neighbours, so they must learn to live and let live.
- Whereas, the US is a distant guest whose “visit” to the neighbourhood should be welcomed as long as it does not play the role of a troublemaker.
- But it is already a troublemaker, first by playing out Syria with its Arab Spring adventure, followed by playing out Türkiye in the Syrian war by supporting SDF, Türkiye’s enemy, and finally playing out the SDF by its announced withdrawal from Syria.
- So it has no business to be present not only on their backyard but in their neighbourhood too. Hence, it is very important for Türkiye and Syria to realise the bigger enemy is the US.
- And that’s why it is the US alone that does not welcome the rapprochement between Syria and Türkiye.
- In the run-up to the May election in Türkiye, the US was scheming with its European allies to ensure a regime change via the electoral process.
- Based on this development alone, Assad should have built political capital with Türkiye by helping Erdogan to win the election via having a summit with him before the election.
- But of course, this is now a moot point because despite Assad’s cold shoulder on the meeting with Erdogan before the election, and in spite of the US scheming for a regime change in Türkiye, Erdogan on his own has already won the election.
- So does this mean as predicted by western analysts it’s now Erdogan’s turn to give Assad the cold shoulder and proceed with Turkish incursion into Syria, as planned earlier?
- The answer is no because not only Erdogan but the whole of Türkiye including its opposition want a rapprochement with Syria.
- And even if Erdogan insists on his earlier plan for an incursion into Syria, Russia won’t allow it.
- It is Russia which controls the airspace over northern Syria and not the US.
- If Türkiye crosses Moscow’s redlines in northern Syria by its incursion, Moscow (or the Assad regime with Moscow’s support) can launch an air campaign targeting the region, sending millions of Syrian refugees to the Turkish border, which is a nightmarish scenario for Türkiye.
- So where do we go from here?
- In your editor’s opinion, while waiting for Assad to “come down to earth” to agree on a summit with Erdogan, a return to an ‘unimpeded’ economic and trade relationship between Türkiye and Syria, as advocated by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov should be implemented with immediate effect.
- This would help Syria in the recovery of its economy that had been devastated by the war, and afford it with the wherewithal to welcome back Syrian refugees not only from Turkiye but in the region to their homes.
- Countries as far away as Europe would also gain in the form of less Syrian refugees coming to their shores.
- Türkiye will also benefit from this because the Turkish people too is suffering heavily economically due to an economy devastated by high inflation rates.
- If this ‘unimpeded’ economic and trade relationship between Türkiye and Syria is hampered by the US sanction, then just ignore it.
- Türkiye has already shown this is possible when it currently ignores US and EU-sanctions on Russia in the Ukraine war.
- The fact is it is only incumbent on all countries to observe UN-mandated sanctions, not US or EU-mandated ones.
- Rich Gulf brother countries should also lend their hands to help intensify trading and economic cooperation with Türkiye and Syria.
- In fact, Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa can also help by bringing Syria and Türkiye into the ambit of the BRICS nations and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation in line with their idea of a multipolar world.
- Then at a suitable time, this should then be followed with the political dimension of the crisis by using the existing platform of rapprochement of the quadrilateral ministerial meeting of Türkiye, Syria, Iran and Russia to thrash out whatever differences Türkiye and Syria have, and manage it judiciously.
- For instance if Syria can already bury the hatchet with its former enemy, the Kurdish SDF, which is Turkiye’s enemy, surely it can bury another hatchet with another enemy, its opposition Islamist factions supported by Türkiye such as the Tahrir al-Sham (HTS).
- In the same vein, Türkiye should also reciprocate by having a dialogue with the SDF, and close the chapter on its conflict with the PKK by releasing its leader, Abdullah Ocalan from house arrest, as a measure of goodwill.
- After all, Ocalan has volunteered his service to the Turkish authorities to press the PKK to lay down their armed struggle against Türkiye.
- The SDF and the PKK in turn should also reciprocate by treating the Syrians and the Turkish people as their brother Muslims and be contented with the autonomy granted by Syria in the north of the country, and by Türkiye in the area of the country where they form the majority.
- They should also stop their double or treble dealings of at times siding with Türkiye to fight Syria, or siding with Syria to fight Türkiye or siding with the US to fight both Syria and Türkiye.
- Instead they should always play the role of a peacemaker between Syria and Türkiye. The same goes for the Syrian opposition Islamist factions supported by Türkiye.
- The fact is whether it is Türkiye, Syria, PKK, SDF or HTS, they are all bound together by being the adherents of Islam (Muslims), and they are all supposed to be the peacemakers of the world, as Islam means peace.
- Where else to begin to play this role if not to start it from their own “homes” and neighbourhood by being peacemakers among their warring brothers, and among themselves.
Read more on the rapprochement between Syria and Türkiye, the Syrian war and Turkish election:
The recent restoration of diplomatic relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia as a result of an agreement signed in Beijing in March following a five-day marathon discussion between representatives of both countries and China reflects in many aspects a new reality.
The agreement came as a surprise to many as the two countries have been bitter enemies for decades, competing fiercely to become the biggest power in the Middle East.
This latest development certainly offers many mutual benefits if all parties involved continue to maintain mutual respect and bilateral political trust in the agreement.
Even other Middle Eastern countries are expected to reap benefits following the rapprochement between the two countries.
From an economic point of view, it is beneficial for both countries which can certainly attract large investments from China who are really interested in increasing investment in addition to boosting the tourism sector not only in both countries but also in other countries in the Middle East.
However, what is more important and critical for now is that the agreement signed can help restore peace in Yemen that will in turn have the potential to create political and economic stability there.
This is because the country and the people of Yemen have long suffered and been severely affected following the civil war that is seen as a proxy war between Tehran and Riyadh, which has been going on for more than eight years.
China’s role as a middle man
What is also interesting in the latest development is China’s role as a mediator and peacemaker between the two countries that have been hostile for a long time.
China, which has now emerged as the largest oil importing country in the world, certainly wants to see stability and peace in the countries of the Middle East. It is in its national interest to keep the Middle East region safe.
Whereas in the past, China has taken a passive stance in various conflicts in the Middle East, it is now trying to showcase its capabilities by offering something different from the US – namely the ability to discuss and negotiate with all parties without mocking or raising issues of human rights.
The effort became an interesting prospect for Saudi Arabia and Iran as well as other Middle Eastern countries which are mostly considered by the West as hard-line countries.
Unlike the US which has no diplomatic relations with Iran, China has diplomatic and economic relations with both Riyadh and Tehran.
China is Iran’s largest trading partner and also a major buyer of oil from Saudi Arabia and Iran. That puts China in a good position to play the role of a mediator for both sides.
China’s Foreign Minister, Qin Gang in a press conference for the National People’s Congress recently revealed China’s diplomacy plan in the Middle East is a continuous effort to seek justice and help countries in the Middle East region reach a political solution on hot issues through dialogue and deliberation.
“China fully respects Middle Eastern countries as masters in their own affairs. We have no desire to fill the so-called “empty space”. And we will not build exclusive circles,” he said.
Benefits for Saudi Arabia
Saudi Arabia’s goal is to avoid any threat from Iran so that its leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, can focus on meeting the goals of his grand plan to diversify his country’s economy from only relying on oil production.
This includes various efforts and relaxation of regulations to attract as much foreign investment as possible in addition to boosting the country’s domestic consumption.
The plan for the rapid development of Saudi Arabia that he is currently focusing on includes overhauling and renovating his country’s economy on a large scale.
This includes the development of the Vision 2030 project with the most expensive project of Neom smart city development costing US$500 billion and the tourism mega project in the Red Sea.
“The rapid pace of activity now causes them (Saudi Arabia’s leaders) to want a clear (peaceful) border boundary, and they will go to anyone who can give them that opportunity – be it America, China or a combination of the two,” said Bader al-Saif, an expert on Gulf and Arab Affairs at Kuwait University, to the media recently
The reaction from Iran
In Tehran, the agreement is seen as a success as Iran tries to develop its regional relations to break various pressures and economic sanctions from the West and the US.
The Iranian government also considers the agreement to symbolise the decline of the US’ influence in the Middle East.
America doesn’t care?
China’s role in reconciling two Islamic countries with different beliefs – Sunni and Shia – was however also welcomed by the US which considered the restoration of good relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia as a positive development.
So far, America has not shown much concern about the role of Chinese diplomacy in reconciling the two countries as well as China’s growing influence in the Middle East.
Perhaps the US sees the rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia as something that is in alignment with its goal to prevent Iran from developing its nuclear weapons programme – something that America and the West are very worried about.
But it was widely reported in the media of the Middle East countries that oil and nuclear issues were never discussed at the meeting in Beijing between the two countries.
But according to Middle East Eye, an independent digital news organisation, the US dispatched CIA director Bill Burns to Saudi Arabia in April who told Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman that the US feels “blindsided” by Riyadh’s moves to restore ties with Iran and Syria as part of the kingdom’s increasingly independent foreign policy streak.
During the meeting, Burns also expressed Washington’s frustration at being left out of regional developments, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The visit, first reported by the Washington Post, follows a series of surprise diplomatic breakthroughs by Riyadh that have left the US on the sidelines, fanning talk of the US’ waning influence in the region.
The announcement on the rapprochement between Iran and Saudi Arabia was initially greeted with scepticism in Washington.
A former senior US official was reported speaking to cast doubt on the validity of the reports while an acting US official sought to downplay the breakthrough, explaining that the US would wait to see its impact.
Burns’ comments appeared to challenge the US’ official line that Saudi Arabia kept it informed of its talks with Iran to restore diplomatic relations.
“The Saudis did keep us informed about these talks that they were having, just as we keep them informed on our engagements,” White House spokesman John Kirby said in March.
US officials have been quick to point out that they publicly supported dialogue between Iran and Saudi Arabia long before Beijing brokered the rapprochement.
The CIA chief’s visit came on the back of Saudi Arabia’s surprise decision in April to implement an oil production cut that sent crude prices skyrocketing.
Saudi’s support for a cut in October last year was slammed by the Biden administration as aligning with Russia amid the war in Ukraine. But the kingdom is brushing off US complaints.
Saudi officials have gone on the offensive, slamming energy transition goals – mainly supported in the West – as unrealistic.
Energy Minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman has offered some of the sharpest criticism: “We keep hearing you ‘are with us or against us’. Is there any room for ‘we are with the people of Saudi Arabia?’” he said after the Opec+ production cut in October.
Editor, Let’s Talk! &
Rosebi Mohd Sah
Contributing Editor, Let’s Talk!
* Read our op-ed published by the Khmer Times on June 14.
** Rosebi Mohd Sah is a veteran journalist with 30 years of experience in both the print and broadcast media. Formerly a News Editor of Berita Harian/Berita Minggu Singapore, the flagship Malay daily in the SPH group of newspapers, and prior to that a broadcast journalist with Singapore’s Mediacorp, the veteran journalist now resides in Dubai, UAE with his family.
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- Vol 3 No 37: China and Russia are the peacemakers of the Islamic world [PDF]
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