OPINION

This is happening. Source: Miriam Migliazzi & Mart Klein

18/05/2017 - 08:42 0
Erdogan's regional influence will erode if he remains moving between Moscow and Washington

Erdogan said his visit to Washington would mark a new beginning in relations between the two countries and believed that the dispute on U.S. support for Kurds would be largely resolved. Concurrently with this statement, Trump approved arming the Kurds to liberate Raqqa, despite Turkey's opposition and its statement that this step contradicts the strategic relations between the two. Turkey sent senior Turkish officials to Washington ahead of Erdogan with the task of raising the issue of arming the Kurds, however the confirmation of heavy weaponry to the YPG gives the impression that the American decision was timed deliberately to pressure Erdogan to accept U.S. policies in Syria and join its strategy in the region, including the anti-Iran coalition.

Washington does not want to adopt the Turkish plan, which depends on the Sunni fighters whom Washington doesn't trust and considers less efficient than the Kurds. In addition, Washington is resentful of the Turkish-Iranian-Russian rapprochement to produce Astana agreement, which did not take into account U.S. interests, and opening Turkish airspace for Russian planes in return for allowing a hand for Turkey in Afrin and Tall Rifat against the People's Protection Units (YPG).

Washington is supporting thousands of fighters from different nationalities and religions under the umbrella of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in order to establish a pro-American federal system in north Syria and make the region a stable environment expelled of jihadist militants. It believes that involving the Kurds in this system will reduce the armed tension between Turkey and the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and replace it with common interests between the two parties sponsored by the United States. However, Washington and Turkey are still working in contradictory directions in northern Syria. While Washington is planning to stabilize the region, Ankara is fueling conflicts to deny Kurds control of more areas. Washington is thus trying to convince Erdogan of this project by offering guarantees to Turkey to calm down. "We will work closely with Turkey to strengthen its security on the southern border, and we will work together to dispel concern", the U.S. defense secretary said.

U.S. assurances to Turkey are part of Washington's efforts to avoid Erdogan's turn to Putin, the latter is trying to isolate Ankara from NATO and America. On 15 May 2017, the Russian President stated that he saw no need to arm the Syrian Kurds, a statement contrary to Trump's move, supporting Erdogan's concerns and an unprecedented position by the Russians towards the Syrian Kurds whom they themselves were supporting and arming.

Despite U.S. guarantees, Turkey understands that the Syrian Kurds' rapprochement will be reflected on the Kurds of Turkey and that the United States will support the establishment of a comprehensive Kurdish state after defeating ISIS. Washington believes that planting a strong secular Kurdish state in the center of the region has become important for the U.S. national security, especially after Erdogan's orientation to Islamize Turkey and following the growing confidence in the Kurds as reliable allies. Although the majority of Kurds are Sunnis, there is no hard-core extremist ideology in their areas, while they have played the main role in the fight against terrorism. Furthermore, the oil reserves in Iraqi Kurdistan are estimated at more than 50 billion barrels, the unconfirmed reserves estimated at 80 billion barrels and about 10 trillion cubic meters of natural gas.

The factors mentioned above put Erdogan in a difficult and complex situation. If his position between Moscow and Washington is not resolved he will be eroded and remain crushed between the two, especially since he no longer has the leverage to put pressure on the U.S. Despite Washington's need for logistical support from ground forces, tanks and air bases, these would not pose a deterrent. Alternatives are increasing, whether it be Jordan, Syria or Iraqi Kurdistan. Even if Erdogan would think of resorting to Putin, Moscow intends to push Washington to offer incentives and it would be unreasonable for the Russian president to abandon his interests with Washington for his commitment to support Erdogan.

On the other hand, it is unlikely for Turkey to join the U.S. anti-Iranian project as Iran is capable of destabilizing Turkey's national security by several political, security and economic means, but Ankara may join it as a formality in order to win Washington's support. The Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) has Maku, Dambat, Navur, Kotr, Keneresh and Şehidan camps inside Iran near the Turkish border. There are 800 to 1,000 party members in these camps who enter Turkey to carry out attacks. Also most of the 5,000-guerrilla forces are in the vicinity of Mount Qandil, on the border between Iraqi and Iranian Kurdistan. Tehran has helped the PKK open an office in Baghdad, and the party is trying to control Tal Afar and Bashika to make Mount Sinjar a stronghold, like the Qandil mountains, with all of these areas a percieved threat to Turkey.

Based on the aforementioned, the option of rapprochement with Iran may be the preferable choice for Turkey to allay the percieved Kurdish threat. Turkey's participation in the U.S. project against Iran would far outweigh the threat from the Kurds, which would impose more cooperation with Turkey. Ankara gets a large share of gas from Tehran followed by size what it receives from Russia, and hundreds of Turkish companies invest in the sectors of tourism, infrastructure and services within Iran. If oil reserves are fully developed in the Pars II field, Turkey may cooperate with Iran to build a pipeline to export gas to Europe from these rich reserves. Tehran also relies on Ankara to resist Western efforts aimed at isolating it entirely from the region. In addition, the rapprochement between the two countries is considered one of the main security threats to Israel, and this is what Iran wants to acquire as a new pressure card.

Note: This article was written before Erdogan's meeting with Trump.


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