by Kevin Barrett (News & Analysis, Crescent International Vol. 49, No. 2, Sha'ban, 1441)
On March 19, 2020 (Rajab 24, 1441) two Turkish soldiers were killed, and one wounded, in a rocket attack perpetrated by Turkey’s erstwhile allies, the al-Qaeda affiliated Hurras al-Din militia. The attack occurred near Jabal Zawiya on the M4 highway about 30 kilometers west of Idlib.
According to reports, at least some Turkish forces are beginning to withdraw from Idlib. The Turks are reportedly frustrated by their inability to control the radical militias and mercenaries who, until now, have been their allies in the fight against Damascus. According to the ceasefire agreement signed on March 5, Turkey is required to disarm its dubious allies. But thus far the task has proved impossible. Takfiri militias like Hurras al-Din have explicitly rejected the ceasefire, and are doing everything they can to sabotage it, with the full support of the Unites States.
Hurras al-Din is allied with Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, which controls the Ghab plain dominated by Jabal Zawiya. These and other takfiri groups have attacked both Syrian-Russian and Turkish patrols along the M4 and M5 highways in an apparent attempt to blow up the March 5 ceasefire agreement. And though that agreement explicitly gives Syria full control over the lands south of the M4, the takfiris are refusing to leave, and Turkey is still protecting them, albeit half-heartedly. But the only thanks Turkey is getting from its takfiri friends for that half-hearted protection is an occasional rocket attack.
Coming under attack from supposed allies whom they are unable to disarm may motivate Erdogan’s government to reconsider its presence in Idlib. But if it does pull out, Turkey fears being overrun by even more Syrian refugees—in this case the extremist militias and their supporters, as well as ordinary Syrians fleeing the fighting as the Syrian government gradually re-establishes control over its territory in a series of slow, painful advances against the militias, often in a context of urban warfare that takes a terrible toll on civilians. Turkey already hosts 3.5 million displaced Syrians, far more than any other country. It feels, understandably, that it can ill afford more.
Ironically, Syria and Turkey want the same thing: stability. Both countries have been deliberately destabilized by the Zionist West. Both have been punished for refusing to submit to total Western control. Syria, of course, has received vastly worse punishment—and Turkey was tricked into helping administer it. But governments in both countries share a desire to re-establish relative normalcy, and to put out the fires of sedition. Syria has seen its sovereignty gravely threatened by takfiri militias while Turkey, like other regional countries, is similarly threatened by Kurdish nationalist forces. (Both the takfiri and Kurdish troublemakers are supported by the Zionist entity and its American lapdog.)
Given this convergence of interests, Turkey and Syria need to reach an agreement based on full respect for each other’s sovereignty. But Turkey will have to reverse course, abandon its takfiri ex-friends, and find a way to help Syria repatriate its displaced millions.
Donald Trump and his neocon-Zionist advisors don’t want that to happen. They are trying to bribe Erdogan with offers of renewed military and economic payoffs in return for downgrading his relations with Moscow and escalating his war on Syria. Ironically, the US and its supposed arch-enemy, the al-Qaeda takfiris, are de facto allies.
Basically, Trump is promising Erdogan big bribes, including the F-35 fighter jets it is currently withholding, if the Turkish president will stop trying to disarm al-Qaeda! If the American people knew to what extreme lengths their government will go to support al-Qaeda, they would either be very confused, or, more likely, enraged. Likewise, if misguided but understandably angry young Muslim supporters of al-Qaeda understood how the top echelons of that organization are in bed with the US and its Israeli controllers, they would be even angrier.
Trump and his neocons also want to force Turkey to back out of its purchase of Russia’s S-400 air defense system. Last July 17, the White House announced that Turkey wouldn’t receive any of its promised 100+ American F-35 fighter jets as punishment for refusing to abandon the S-400 deal. Turkey pointedly refused. It has taken possession of its first S-400 shipment, which will be activated in April, and is expecting a second next August or September.
Meanwhile, the US Congress is trying to force Trump to sanction Turkey under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA). Erdogan responded in December by threatening to close the nuclear-weapons-laden Incirlik American air base and the Kurecik NATO radar base. US Defense Secretary Esper then hinted that maybe it was time for Turkey to leave NATO. If Erdogan was smart (and brave) he would take Esper’s advice and immediately eject the American occupation force, taking possession of American nuclear weapons and disarming them for the benefit of humanity. He would then be free to fully cooperate with the parties seeking stability on and around Turkey’s southern border.
But is Erdogan that smart and brave? Taking such a decisive stand is not in character for the smooth politician and wheeler-dealer. More likely Erdogan will continue trying to play the Russians and Americans off against each other. But how long will that be possible? Erdogan’s choice in Syria is stark: Either live up to his ceasefire agreement, which entails abandoning the US-supported al-Qaeda takfiris, or tear up the agreement and invite the US in with its not-terribly-effective Patriot missiles to protect his occupation troops (and their faithless al-Qaeda allies). The latter choice would leave Turkey stuck in a worsening quagmire in Syria, with no viable exit strategy.
This is not a good time to pursue further destabilization. By mid-March Turkey had already reported over a thousand Covid-19 cases and 20 deaths. The numbers are growing rapidly as of late March. And on March 22, 2020 (Rajab 27, 1441) Syria announced its first confirmed Covid-19 case. The conditions of life in those parts of Syria worst affected by the war, and in refugee camps in Turkey, are such that the ill effects of disease can be greatly magnified. In many cases people lack adequate food, shelter, and medical facilities. The death rates under such conditions will be much worse than those experienced by relatively well-off denizens of rich countries, who panic at the prospect of relatively minor inconveniences while remaining oblivious to the magnitude of human suffering in war zones like those in Syria and Yemen—disasters their tax money, and leadership choices, have created.
Now that the West is preoccupied with its own domestic disasters, will it pause in its unceasing efforts to inflict vastly worse disasters on the people of the Muslim East? Will the coronavirus crisis create an opening for regional peace initiatives like the March 5 ceasefire agreement? Or will leaders like Erdogan continue to miss opportunities, including, in his case, the opportunity to return to the highly successful “no problems with neighbors” policy he pursued before he was lured into the Syria trap?