New Age Islam Edit Bureau
27 January 2018
To Whom It May Concern: Stop Iran!
By Mashari Althaydi
Let's Show Our Support By Visiting Palestine
By Mustafa Al Zarooni
Will Iran Turn Azerbaijan Into Another Iraq?
By Huda Al-Husseini
Will Operation Olive Branch End The US-Turkey Alliance?
By Giorgio Cafiero
Rebuilding Civic Society In Pakistan With ‘Fresh Ideas’
By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
Is Sisi Anxious About Political Opposition?
By Mohamad Elmasry
Turkey Out To Prove It Is A Serious Regional Player
By Sinem Cengiz
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
26 January 2018
“We will strengthen our old alliances and create new ones.” These were the words of US President Donald Trump on 20 January of last year at his inauguration ceremony.
This main principle of Trump’s foreign policy is key to his current policy in the Middle East, as reflected in his tough stance against the rise of Iranian influence in the region along withhis pressure on European countries to review the nuclear deal, whose adverse consequences Trump never fails to adumbrate.
Last Monday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced that the United States plans to send a diplomatic team to Europe for discussing, “how we can cooperate more on countering Iranian activities that have nothing to do with the nuclear program,” such as “Iran’s arms exports to Yemen and elsewhere.”
In this context, US researcher Jay Solomon wrote an article for the MBN network, in which he highlighted extensive US pressure on Iran-affiliated countries in the region.
He also talks about the increasing logistical and intelligence support provided by the United States to Saudi Arabia and the Arab alliance in Yemen, in comparison to the negative, cold, sluggish or conspiratorial attitude of the ‘great genius’ Barack Obama!
On the other hand, every day we become aware of more information about the extent of Iranian influence. Reuters said that ‘The Washington Free Beacon’ website revealed another “secret” agreement reached by the Obama administration with Iran, hindering the imposition of sanctions on the “Iranian radio and television” accused of human rights violations.
Then of course we have the scandalous Cassandra deal. The Obama administration allegedly stopped the investigation into the largest drug trafficking network and money laundering for Hezbollah in the United States and Latin America for the sake of its sacred agreement with Iran.
Those who hobnobbed with Iran under the leadership of Obama should clearly define their position today, be they in Europe or Arab countries.
The new US message as Trump enunciated it must be understood, “We will strengthen our old alliances and create new ones.”
Let's Show Our Support by Visiting Palestine
January 25, 2018
The Arab people in Jerusalem - mostly Palestinians - have been living in such a jail for the last 70 years.
It's most painful when the jailer who is occupying your homeland imprisons you. Voices around you are ready to help, but lack actual ground support. That's when you are finally forced to face the warden with your hands shackled.
The Arab people in Jerusalem - mostly Palestinians - have been living in such a jail for the last 70 years. Despite being painfully sidelined during these last decades, despite the agony they have been suffering, despite the deteriorating businesses they have had and despite the difficult times they have been through without being able to even meet their daily needs, the Arab people in Jerusalem have rejected the millions of dollars offered to them by the jailer - read Israelis - in return for a tiny home the jailer would buy from them.
And all this while they remained patient and firm, not falling prey to the lure of the money and dangerous aggressions from time to time.
But how many generations will remain patient? How long can we wait and watch? How long can we take the atrocities? The methods adopted by the Arab people to confront the occupation has not made headway. They have also failed to provide support to the Arab people in Jerusalem.
Is it not time to think of a change in approach? Is it not time to visit Jerusalem to support the Arab people living there?
Yes, the time has come to extend help to these people, to help beef up their economy and to guarantee them a decent life.
We have for so long remained passive, waiting for the normalisation of relations with Israel instead of protesting at the jailer's fort till our demands are met.
"Visiting prisoners is not a matter of normalisation of relations with the jailer," said Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the International Conference of Al Azhar. He sincerely appealed to Arabs across the Arab world to visit the Arab people in Jerusalem to give them support and a helping hand.
Abbas's statement is an explicit invitation to break Israeli blockade and monopoly.
Israel aims to work on decreasing the number of Arab people in Jerusalem - Palestinians living in Jerusalem - by luring them with dollars to leave their homes and start a new life in another country. They could either choose that or give in to the jailer's pressure tactics where their businesses are shut down and are at the mercy of the jailer. There are, in fact, only two options open to them - either starve to death or sell their cause and eventually their homeland.
By Huda al-Husseini
Azerbaijan’s government and many intellectual Iraqis feel deeply worried by what they view as Iran’s manipulation of Shiite Muslims.
Security forces in Azerbaijan recently submitted a report to the government saying that Iran “increased its capabilities” in some areas in the country, and they now think that many people are under Iran’s influence.
The report raised the government’s fears. In 2013, Azerbaijan has eased an unofficial restriction that prevented religious figures affiliated with Iran from preaching in public places. The aim of this “tactical” openness towards the Shiites aimed to stop Azeris from joining ISIS and fighting in Syria and Iraq. It seems this policy had unintentional consequences and led to Iran’s increased control over Shiite practices in Azerbaijan. The Azerbaijani Turan Information Agency reported that according to official data, 22 out of 150 Shiite schools in the country are under Iran’s complete control.
Many secular and moderate Azeris were disturbed by the increase of Shiite practices. During Ashura ceremonies in September, children participated in rituals which include self-flagellation. MP Zahid Oruj said: “When I saw children who do not fully understand everything attend Ashura ceremonies and little girls wearing hijab, I thought they will become Kamikaze in the future to be sent to Syria.”
Meanwhile, Iraq shares Azeris’ fears. Iraqi author Raghd Abdel Rida al-Jaberi said: “Iraqis were the striking power in the region. This is why Iran filled their lives with grief and put them through a funeral all year round. They’d wrap up commemorating Husayn and then observe his Arbaeen (the 40th day after his death). Then they commemorate Al-Zahraa, Al-Abbas, Zainab, Al-Kathem, Shaabanya, Al-Sajjad and Al-Moussawi. They do this all year round beginning with Muharram under the excuse of Ashura’s griefs.”
“While the Iraqis spent their time going from Najaf to Karbala and to Samarra, Iran built a strong army to manufacture weapons, innovate, create and develop to produce nuclear weapons,” Jaberi added.
“Iran through its wit made Shiite clerics in Iraq turn the Iraqis’ lives into a shameful reality. They even convinced Shiite Iraqis that washing and rubbing the feet of Iranians who are heading to visit Husayn’s tomb brings them closer to heaven no matter what they do afterwards. The Iranians destroyed the Iraqi army which confronted them for eight years. They established an alternative army which consisted of two parts: one that protects Husayn’s visitors and another that carries food to those arriving from Iran to visit Husayn’s tomb and perform other rituals invented by their ayatollahs,” she added.
Out of fear that Azerbaijan becomes like Iraq, particularly after the scene of children during Ashura, the State Committee for Family, Women and Children Affairs of Azerbaijan proposed in October a legislation that prohibits allowing children to participate in Ashura ceremonies and similar religious rituals. Azerbaijan has not yet voted on the legislation but Iran’s Supreme Guide Ayatollah Ali Khamenei criticized this proposal when he received Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev in Tehran in November. He told him: “We must provide Shiites in Azerbaijan with this great opportunity to mourn because it strengthens the identity of the Azeri state.”
Azerbaijan remains cautious of Iran. Ties between the two countries have witnessed some tensions ever since Azerbaijan’s independence in 1991 as Azerbaijan fears Iranian religious influence. Meanwhile, Tehran is worried of Azerbaijan’s possible influence on the Azeri ethnicity in North Iran. This is in addition to the fact that each country has strong ties with the other’s worst enemy: Azerbaijan has ties with Israel and Iran has ties with Armenia.
When Hassan Rouhani became president in 2013, Iran had to re-evaluate its relations with Azerbaijan. Official contacts increased between them, and they signed more than 20 cooperation agreements. A source told me: “One of these projects would never have been approved before 2013 as Azerbaijan decided to finance a plan to build a 100-meters railway that extends from Azerbaijani’s borders to the city of Rasht. It’s part of the transportation corridor between the north and the south. Baku’s intention was to obstruct the plan to develop railways between Iran and Armenia.”
Baku did not confront Tehran about influencing Ashura’s ceremonies but Deputy Chairman of the Azerbaijani State Committee for Work with Religious Organizations Gunduz Ismayilov noted that some Azeri powers seek to bring politicians to Ashura ceremonies. In December, a website affiliated with the government published an article accusing Iran of attempting to recruit Azeri pilgrims who visit Karbala. The article added that 30,000 Azeris visited Karbala this year. The number marked a 33% increase compared with last year.
The article also said that Iranian Revolutionary Guards and Shiite Azeri militias affiliated with it recruited Azeris to gather intel and launch anti-government propaganda that’s mainly focused on the area of Nardaran, the centre of extremist Shiites in Azerbaijan.
In 2015, security forces carried out a series of raids in Nardaran and arrested religious activists who were accused of conspiring to topple the regime. The Azeri government thinks those arrested were under Iran’s influence. After these raids, this influence weakened (the same scenario is now happening in Nigeria). Iran criticized Nardaran’s raids and viewed them as “a persecution against the Shiites and a violation of their rights.”
It seems Baku decided to clearly voice its worry of Iran. President Aliyev’s participation in the Jenadriyah festival as a guest of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz may be part of this policy. A report published by the Strategic Studies’ Center, a think tank affiliated with the Azeri government, spoke about Baku’s fears of Iran and its ties with Armenia. The report looked like a governmental statement and not an analytical piece. It was published in the Azeri language and not in Russian or English, like the case is with the rest of the center’s reports. Observers interpreted this as a message directed to the Iranian government via its embassy in Baku.
The “statement” criticized the increased contacts between Tehran and the authorities of the Nagorno-Karabakh Region which Baku views as an area that separated from Azerbaijan. It also mentioned the conference held on November 15 in Tehran on Nagorno-Karabakh. The report said: “The Iranian International Studies Association – which Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif is one of its founders – is a platform to have Armenian scholars launch hostile propaganda against Azerbaijan.”
Azerbaijan’s criticism of ties between Iran and Armenia is nothing new but it seems it has reached a serious level. Baku has been wondering: Why does Tehran confirm its solid ties with the fait accompli authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh? Baku fears this will add legitimacy to Karabakh in Iran and help it gain sympathizers. This threatens Baku’s interests and raises questions about Russia’s hidden role in these developments, particularly in Iran’s rapprochement with Armenia at Azerbaijan’s expense. Azerbaijan’s priority may be protecting Azerbaijan’s Shiites from religious habits and rituals which Iran wants to spread in their country.
Will Operation Olive Branch end the US-Turkey Alliance?
25 January 2018
Turkey’s Operation Olive Branch is a combined military and political effort to reverse gains that armed Kurds have achieved in northern Syria. Launched on January 20, the campaign marks a turning point in the Syrian crisis and adds new layers of dangerous friction to Turkey-US relations, which reached rock bottom during the first year of Donald Trump’s presidency. Officials in Washington are concerned that Turkey’s military offensive will undermine international efforts to eradicate Islamic State (ISIS) and other Salafist-jihadist militants from north-western Syria. The Ankara-Washington alliance has likely reached a make-or-break point as the Turkish military wages strikes against US-backed Kurdish forces while President Recep Tayyip Erdogan vows to extend Operation Olive Branch east of Manbij.
Although Turkey and the US have coordinated past efforts against the Damascus regime via the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood, and the two NATO allies’ militaries fought together against ISIS in Syria, since 2015 Washington and Ankara have never seen eye to eye on the dominant Kurdish militia in Syria. Both the Obama and Trump administrations (especially the latter) have supported the People’s Protection Unit (YPG), the armed wing of the Syrian offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Democratic Union Party (PYD), in the fight against ISIS. Viewing the YPG/PYD as a terrorist organization, Turkey has been infuriated with Washington for arming and financially supporting this entity under the banner of countering violent extremism.
Friction between Ankara and Washington reached new heights this month when US officials proposed a plan to recruit and train a security force with 30,000 members—the majority being Syrian Kurds—just south of the Turkish-Syrian border. Turkish officials condemned the “terror army” proposal, maintaining that it would severely damage the Ankara-Washington alliance. Yet the US has already trained and armed the YPG-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which is currently considering plans for sending more reinforcements to Afrin to further fend off the Turkish military offensive on top of the YPG’s firing of rockets at Turkish towns along the border in immediate retaliation to Operation Olive Branch.
The First Major Victim
Much of the tension that the Syrian crisis has recently added to Turkey-US relations derives from the reality that Ankara and Washington have different priorities and incompatible agendas in the war-torn country. Three main objectives drive the Trump administration’s approach toward the Syrian crisis: 1) Undermining Tehran’s ability to consolidate Iranian influence in Syria; 2) Keeping the Syrian regime weak, and thus as minimal a threat to Israel as possible; 3) Preventing Salafist-jihadist entities such as ISIS or al-Qaeda from usurping control of territory and using Syria as a launch pad for acts of international terrorism. In pursuit of these aims, the Trump administration sees the YPG/PYD as having a critical role to play and has clearly signaled its view that the US-YPG/PYD partnership was to be more than a short-term transactional relationship that expired once ISIS lost its strongholds in Iraq and Syria last year.
Yet it is evident that the first major victim of the Trump administration’s approach to Syria’s Kurds is the US-Turkey alliance. Furthermore, odds are good that Washington’s continued arming of Syria’s Kurds will push Turkey closer to Russia. From Ankara’s perspective, the US has been indifferent to, what Turkey perceives as, an existential threat to Turkey’s security and territorial integrity, leaving Ankara with no choice but to seek greater support from Moscow. The Trump administration’s opposition to Operation Olive Branch will further reinforce Ankara’s conviction that the US cannot be trusted when it comes to issues of Turkey’s vital interests, adding to the growing mistrust stemming from the failed coup attempt in 2016, which certain officials in Ankara and voices in the Turkish media allege that Washington backed.
If Turkey and the US fail to diplomatically sort out their differences vis-à-vis northern Syria, the two countries’ alliance may near its final days. Should dialogue between Ankara and Washington not produce a mutual understanding and shared strategy for countering terror menaces in Syria, there is a growing risk of a direct clash between Turkish and US forces in northern Syria. Such an escalation in Afrin and nearby areas of the war-torn country would tragically end recently expressed hopes for 2018 being the year that peace returns to Syria.
Rebuilding Civic Society in Pakistan with ‘Fresh Ideas’
Pakistan has elections. But so have many other countries which we would not call democratic. The Soviet Union had elections. For a country to be a democracy it needs more than elections. It needs a strong civil society, an inclusive social and political dialogue, and a shared commitment by all to resolve political disagreements through shared democratic institutions.
And while the integrity of elections in Pakistan has been increasing in the recent years since the ousting of President Musharaf, and Pakistan has managed the peaceful transition of democratically elected governments, the social and political trends it displays outside of that are rather more worrying.
According to former Pakistan parliamentarian and author of the seminal book ‘Purifying the Land of the Pure’, Faranaz Ispahani, Pakistan’s founder, Mohammad Ali Jinnah, had wanted Pakistan to be a secular democratic state where the Hindus, Muslims and others would be equal. As leader, Jinnah, a Shia Muslim himself, had appointed a Hindu, several Shias, and an Ahmadi to his first cabinet.
But it has been all down-hill from there. No sooner than Jinnah had started than Sunnis within Jinnah’s cabinet began plotting to make Pakistan a Sunni Islamic state, with Liaquat Ali Khan, Pakistan first Prime Minister, leading the narrative of Islamic victimhood, according to Ispahani. And today, that same narrative of Islamic victimhood still animates the parties of the religious conservatives to push the country ever closer to their goal of an exclusionary, theocratic Islamic state.
Closer to The Conservatives’ Goal
And the religious conservatives are closer to their goal than they have ever been. On its founding date, Pakistan had 23% of its population belonging to religious minorities. Today, that number stands at 3%, after 70 years in which successive governments and regimes have created an increasingly hostile environment for more and more minorities. Today, it is unthinkable that anyone could appoint an Ahmadi to the cabinet or give them a prominent role.
What is worse, with the entrenchment of the election process in the national life, politicians and politically motivated military leaders are finding that there are votes in pandering to the well-organized religious extremists, and the political discourse in the country seems to be steadily veering to the right. This has put items such as the blasphemy law or religious extremism beyond the possibility of debate in the mainstream conversation.
But there is a mounting fight-back. Young people in particular are increasingly agitated by the ways in which political discourse in Pakistan has become so divisive, sectarian and exclusionary. They chafe under the cultural restrictions imposed upon their thought and speech, and which manifest themselves in the blasphemy law, but also as the flash mobs who assault and kill outspoken critics of religious extremism. They feel they can vote in Pakistan, but that they need to be careful when they speak, lest they be met with violence.
This is not democracy. This is not even mob rule. It is the chaotic rule of the loudest, most extremist mobs. Yet the yearning for true democracy remains. Blogs critical of political decisions or cultural and social trends continue to flourish, despite the present and real threat of death. Young people continue to organize, to discuss, to debate. Indeed, few countries have young people who are as politically engaged as they are in Pakistan.
I recently attended Afkar e Taza (“Fresh Ideas”), a three-day academic literary festival held in Lahore, organized by Dr Yaqoob Bangash from The Centre for Governance and Policy at Information Technology University. Dr Bangash’s motivation was to create safe spaces in which contentious topics can be discussed such as the judiciary (always a touchy topic in Pakistan), the culture of honor killings, higher education, history and Sufism. All topics which in the current climate might be deemed “sensitive”, but which are essential to discuss. This sort of event is exactly what Pakistan needs, and exactly what the young people of Pakistan need more of, if the country is to build the democratic culture and society. And it is heartening to see that such events are taking place, and that young people are so engaged. There is hope for democracy in Pakistan yet.
25 Jan 2018
On January 23, Sami Anan, former Chief of Staff of the Egyptian armed forces, who had announced his intention to run in Egypt's upcoming presidential elections, was detained. His arrest was the latest in a string of detentions of political figures designed to clear the way for incumbent President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to run unopposed in the March election.
The arrest of Anan followed the detention, in December, of Colonel Ahmed Konsowa, who had also announced he wanted to run for the presidency. Konsowa was sentenced by a military court to six years in prison for "disobeying military orders by expressing his political views".
In January, the regime intimidated Ahmed Shafik, a former commander-in-chief of the Egyptian air force and a minister, into withdrawing from the presidential race.
Then, this week, Khalid Ali, a human rights lawyer who had also announced his intention to run for president, was pressured to drop out of the race. The regime raided a publishing house that stored his campaign brochures and arrested his campaign organisers. Ali also faces a three-month prison sentence for "offending public decency".
All this has come amidst growing political repression. The Sisi government has used the police, army, and judiciary to consolidate political power, eliminate all serious political competition, and ensure a singular media narrative.
The regime has censored news and human rights websites, enacted legislation to crush civil society, censored and surveilled social media pages, arrested workers going on strike, and carried out campaigns of forced disappearances and torture.
With this latest round of public political intimidation, the regime has been quite successful at uprooting all domestic dissent.
One doesn't need a doctorate in political science to decipher the message the regime is sending: Sisi will be Egypt's president for the foreseeable future, and there is a no-tolerance policy on political competition.
The more difficult questions to answer concern why the regime is choosing to send such a strong message to political opponents right now. Why would the government prevent candidates - even weak contenders who pose no threat to Sisi - from running in the elections?
And why is Sisi suddenly so obviously unconcerned about putting up a veneer of democracy? Sisi's rule has been authoritarian from the start, but in his first, few years as the Egyptian president, he did pay lip service to basic democratic practices.
There are at least two explanations for this: that Sisi feels emboldened by US President Donald Trump's foreign policy stance, and that the Egyptian president is anxious about a possible fracture within the Egyptian armed forces.
The Trump Effect
Shortly after winning the 2016 US presidential election, Trump indicated that human rights and democracy promotion abroad would not be among his foreign policy priorities. This was interpreted as a positive signal, by dictators loosely allied with the US, that Washington is unlikely to place democracy and human rights-related restrictions on aid and other forms of support.
In Sisi's case, Trump showered him with praise, calling him a "fantastic guy". The US president made it clear that he is not concerned about the human rights track record of the Sisi regime. In June 2017, Trump gave a green light for an oppressive blockade against Qatar by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt.
Sisi has likely interpreted all of this as indication that he will continue to receive US support - including more than a billion dollars in annual military aid - regardless of what he does at home or abroad.
Another reason for the growing repression in Egypt might be Sisi's deepening insecurity about the strength of his grip over Egyptian politics. It is possible that the Egyptian president fears there is a group of Egyptian power brokers - including high-ranking members of the armed forces and the security apparatus - that want to see the rise of another strongman, whether Anan, Shafik, or someone else.
It is also quite obvious - even to Sisi - that Egypt's economic and security conditions are in worse shape now than when he took power.
Sisi's economic programmes have failed to generate the kind of revenues he promised, the Egyptian pound has depreciated considerably, inflation has increased manifold, and youth unemployment and poverty are at terrifyingly high levels.
In terms of security, Egypt is arguably at a worse point now than at any point in its modern history. Egypt has experienced more terrorist attacks in four years of Sisi rule than it did during the 30-year reign of former dictator Hosni Mubarak.
It is possible, then, that Sisi's attempts to eliminate competitors are both a reflection of his insecurity, and a signal to political rivals from within the regime that they should not seek to challenge him.
What Does The Future Hold?
Sisi will get his second term, and it is possible, too, that the regime will amend the constitution to allow him to rule even beyond that.
Even if he is successful at staving off potential threats from within the Egyptian armed forces, Sisi may, at some point, have to contend with the Egyptian street.
Egyptians have already overthrown one dictator, Mubarak, in 2011, with massive street protests. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that similar protests could be carried out against Sisi in the coming months or years, particularly if inflation, youth unemployment, and poverty continue to rise.
Even at the height of his popularity - shortly after the 2013 military coup that brought him to power - Sisi was only supported by about half of the Egyptian population. The past four years of economic decline and socio-political instability are unlikely to have increased Sisi's standing in the eyes of many Egyptians.
There is no reliable way to determine Sisi's popularity among Egyptians, mostly because, for the past few years, the regime has prevented foreign, scientific polling organisations from carrying out opinion polling in Egypt.
This glaring reality may also be a sign of Sisi's growing insecurity.
Turkey's long-awaited military operation in the northwest Syrian region of Afrin, code-named “Operation Olive Branch,” started last weekend with a goal of eliminating the presence of the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which Ankara considers to be the Syrian branch of outlawed terrorist organization the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
Though a possible operation in Afrin had been on Ankara’s agenda for a long time, serious signals regarding the military incursion were not sent out until Jan. 13, when President Recep Tayyip Erdogan openly stated that “they will see what we’ll do in about a week. If the terrorists in Afrin don’t surrender, we will tear them down.”
Turkey launched the operation as it considers the presence of the YPG in Afrin a serious threat to its national security and the stability of the region as a whole. For months, Ankara has tried to explain to its allies, namely the US, its security concerns and called on them to stop supporting the group. However, Turkey’s concerns have fallen on deaf ears, with Washington continuing to throw its weight behind the YPG with the alleged reason that it was fighting Daesh. Whenever Turkey tried to convince its ally, it received a reply along the lines of: “We understand your security concerns, but the priority is Daesh, not the others.” Frustrated with the indifferent stance of the US and others, Turkey took the matter into its own hands and engaged in a process that may not end with Afrin.
With Operation Olive Branch, Turkey seems to want to send a message to its allies that Turkey’s concerns are not less important than theirs and also show that the world is no longer unipolar, with Turkey having no other option but to be dependent on the US. Today’s Turkey, which is surrounded by myriad regional challenges, prefers not to jump on the US bandwagon.
As Turkey launched its military operation, it also engaged in shuttle diplomacy to explain to the international community that the offensive is being carried out within the boundaries of international law. Turkey seems to be following the rational model of decision-making in the context of Afrin. First, it identified its goals — to eliminate the YPG — and then it evaluated the consequences of its policy choices, in order to come to the most rational decision.
For Turkey, this military operation was the most rational choice.
As in all military involvements, there are clear goals to be accomplished as well as long-term strategic objectives. The Afrin operation’s most significant goal is to set up an area 30 km deep and 130 km wide free of terrorist groups. If this goal is achieved, Turkey will be able to control its Syrian border and even proceed toward Manbij, close to the western bank of the Euphrates, if the YPG does not withdraw from that area. Ankara has planned a four-phase operation but made it clear that the operation’s aim is not against Syria’s territorial integrity.
Needless to say, it seems Russia gave the green light to Turkey’s operation for many possible reasons. First and foremost was to keep Turkey in the Astana peace process because Ankara brings legitimacy to the talks, given that the other two actors, Russia and Iran, are supporters of the Syrian regime. Second was to decrease the US role in Syria and to distance the Kurdish groups from American influence. We still do not know if Turkey can reach Manbij but, even if it does not, the offensive in Afrin has dealt a severe blow to the Kurdish organizations. They in turn seem set to lose motivation and trust for the US, which has a long history of disappointing the Kurds. Third, both Russia and Turkey are frustrated with US policies in Syria and want to re-establish a forum where the future of Syria will be reshaped.
For Turkey’s part, a successful operation would strengthen its hand in both the Astana process on the table and in Syria on the ground. Ankara’s role in the Sochi talks, to be held on Jan. 29-30, depends on how strong it is on the ground.
Indeed, Turkey’s intervention in Afrin has opened a new chapter in the Syrian crisis. Turkey is not a big power, but it is a serious regional player that can influence the strategies of the other powers that have a stake in Syria. It is too early to predict what the Afrin operation will bring in terms of Ankara’s long-term strategy in Syria, and it is clear the operation is not totally without risks and consequences, both militarily and politically. However, one point is clear — that Turkey started the operation strong; but to remain strong throughout the process is even more significant. The coming days are of utmost importance.