The move confirms that the current US administration is not interested in heading an alliance of regional forces against Iranian expansionism or Sunni political Islam, but is, like its predecessor, managing imperial decline.
The statement on northern Syria released Sunday by the White House press secretary appears to clear the way for the long-anticipated Turkish invasion of northeast Syria. It represents a disaster for the Syrian Kurds and a not entirely unexpected betrayal by the US of its main allies in the fight against ISIS. The decision has implications for Israel, too, on both the tactical and strategic levels.
On the tactical level, if a Turkish invasion of Kurdish-controlled northeast Syria is launched, this will have the likely effect of delivering a large part of northeast Syria into the hands of the Assad regime and its Iranian allies. This is because the Syrian Kurds, if faced with a choice between Assad or the Sunni jihadi forces currently fighting under the Turkish flag, will choose the former. Assad and the Iranians will suppress all independent Kurdish political and cultural activity. But they will almost certainly not carry out wholesale ethnic cleansing of Kurdish populations.
The Turks and their Sunni Islamist allies cleansed 200,000 Kurds from their homes in the Afrin Kurdish enclave, which Turkey destroyed in January 2018. The Kurds, with good reason, believe that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan plans a similar fate for the Kurds of the northeast. So they are likely to fight to hold the Turks back in the north for as long as possible while arranging a rapid surrender to Assad to enable the Syrian regime to take control of the areas further south. The result: Syria east of the Euphrates, currently an American protectorate and a barrier against Iran and ISIS, will be divided up between the Turks/Islamists in the north and Assad/the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the south. The southern part would then form part of the famous Iranian “land bridge” to the Mediterranean, Lebanon, and the Quneitra Crossing (Syria’s border with the Israeli Golan Heights).
On a strategic level, the American move confirms that the current US administration is not interested in heading an alliance of regional forces against Iranian expansionism or Sunni political Islam, as some had fondly believed. Rather, the administration, like its predecessor, is in the business of managing imperial decline (albeit with very different rhetoric from that of the Obama administration). This will be a lesson well learned by both allies and enemies of the US in the Middle East.
Published in Israel Hayom 08.10.2019
JISS Policy Papers are published through the generosity of the Greg Rosshandler Family.