Thursday, July 28, 2011

Israel stoking a Lebanon-style civil war in Syria for Arabs, Kurds and Turks to slaughter one another....

Israel stoking a Lebanon-style civil war in Syria for Arabs, Kurds and Turks to slaughter one another...., while the Ziocons and Israhell actively prepare an attack on IRAN & Hezbollah.....

By M K Bhadrakumar

After having cautiously lingered in the shade for almost eight months figuring out the meaning and dangers of the Arab Spring, Israel suddenly stirred itself on Tuesday. In an unprecedented move, Israeli President Shimon Peres called in the Arab media for a press conference and made the announcement that Israel backed regime change in Damascus.

Up to this moment, Israel had taken elaborate care not to identify with the Arab Spring. It preferred to concentrate more on the aftermath of the regime changes than on promoting the revolutionaries in the barricades. In the case of Syria, Israel was even suspected to be secretly rooting for the regime of the assassin Bashar Assad, seeing him as standing between Israel and the deluge of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover.

On Tuesday, Peres dispelled the strategic ambiguity at one stroke. "Assad must go. The sooner he will leave, the better it will be for his people," Peres said. The Israeli president hailed the Syrian protesters, declaring, "It is easy [for Syrians] to go out and demonstrate, but when they [Syrian army] shoot you? It is amazing. Their courage and firm stance are honorable."

Peres insisted that regime change in Damascus would be in the interests of Arab-Israeli peace. He exuded confidence that a successor regime in Damascus would conclude a peace treaty with Israel - "Those who seek peace will prevail."

This is a path-breaking performance. Why has Israel chosen to shed its strategic ambiguity over Syria? Israel, after all, knows only too well that a regime change anywhere in the Arab world in today's conditions can only work against its interests. Egypt is a typical case where if and when the interim rulers hand over power to an elected government, it will have to factor in the strong popular wish for a foreign policy that distances the country from the United States and Israel.

A big majority of Egyptians will demand that their government should back off from any form of close cooperation with Israel on economic and security issues. Israel is watching with trepidation the prospect of a thaw in Egypt-Iran ties. Israel's military intelligence chief Major General Aviv Kochavi made a stunning statement recently that Iran was secretly funding Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood. In short, Israel cannot afford to be sanguine about the outcome of regime change in Syria.

Peres apparently had other calculations. What emerges is that Israel has made a cold-blooded assessment that regime change in Damascus is not in the cards. Patrick Seal, well-known author and Arabist, summed up last week: "The situation has not reached a critical mass. Damascus hasn't risen, the security services haven't split yet, the economy hasn't collapsed. The regime looks weak and the opposition looks weaker. The more blood is spilt the more difficult it is to find a solution. There has to be a negotiated solution of sorts. If there is no solution there will be a civil war."

Equally, Israel would be disheartened that there is no sign of concerted international action, as happened on Libya. If anything, the bruises and humiliations they are taking from Muammar Gaddafi in the Libyan war would only make the Western powers even more circumspect about the wisdom of opening a Syrian front anytime soon.

The BRICS - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - along with Lebanon have smothered Western moves to even hold a discussion in the United Nations Security Council over Syria. The recent visit to Damascus by Arab League secretary general Nabil Elaraby showed that the regional wind is changing in favor of Assad.

Turkey snubs Israel, again
For a while in the most recent period, Israel pinned hopes on the revival of its moribund security ties with Turkey and on mounting a pincer move in the downstream against Syria from the north and the south. Things were indeed looking good in recent weeks for a normalization of Israel-Turkey relations as the diplomats of the two countries worked hard to get over the bitter legacy of the Israeli attack on the Gaza-bound aid convoy from Istanbul last year that killed nine Turkish citizens.

However, it now transpires that Ankara doggedly sticks to the insistence of a formal Israeli apology, which is not forthcoming as it is tantamount to indicting the Israeli army. The Turks are now threatening that they will punish Israel.

"The ball is in the Israeli court. If it decides to apologize, then everything is fine. If not, then we will have to resort to Plan B," a senior Turkish official told Agence France-Presse. He added that Turkey was contemplating moves to bring legal action against the Israeli commandos who staged the attack on the aid convoy and could also "further downgrade its diplomatic representation and withhold agreement when Israel wants to name a new envoy to Ankara".

The Turkish Foreign Ministry came out with a statement criticizing the latest Israeli move to create new settlements on Palestinian land.

Earlier, on Saturday, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, while addressing a conference of Palestinian envoys in Istanbul, said in the presence of Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas: "Unless we receive an official apology for the nine Turkish citizens killed, until the families of those victims are compensated and until the blockade of Gaza is lifted, relations between our countries [Turkey and Israel] will not normalize." He threatened to visit Gaza.

Ankara would know these are humiliating demands, which even if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might want to ponder over in a spirit of realpolitik or pragmatism, Israeli public opinion won't allow it. It is possible to discern that the Turks may just be deliberately making things very difficult for Israel to patch up the broken ties. The Turks seem to have suddenly lost the ardor for a "normalization" with Israel at the present juncture, which the Americans have been encouraging.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Turkey 10 days ago and made flattering remarks about the country's larger destiny as the leader of the Middle East. The new head of the US Central Intelligence Agency, David Petraeus, made Istanbul his first port of call after leaving his command in Afghanistan. It all but seemed Turkey would bite the tantalizing proposition to act as the beachhead for a concerted intervention in Syria.

But, Ankara carefully weighed the advantages of becoming the instigator of regime change in Damascus and seems to have arrived at the conclusion that the dangers to its own territorial integrity far outweigh whatever geopolitical advantages Washington promises. Simply put, it doesn't suit Turkey to be seen holding the Israeli hand right now. Thus, Israeli hopes of breaking out of regional isolation by reinventing an axis with Turkey over Syria are dissipating.

The clincher for Ankara is that the Syrian developments are taking a dangerous turn toward a full-fledged, no-holds-barred, Lebanon-like religious war in the 1980s, which will be a dreadful thing to happen in its backyard.

The sequence of events triggered by the gruesome killing of three families from the Alawi tribe by Salafi extremists in the city of Homs close to the Turkish border testifies to the grave consequences of the danger of derailment of the democracy movement in Syria, which Ankara has been sponsoring in recent months.

A wave of anti-Salafi resentment is sweeping over the region among Shi'ites and Alawis. The backlash is rekindling dormant religious and sectarian passions. Ankara can sense that Salafi extremists, many of them al-Qaeda affiliates and battle-hardened veterans from the Iraq war, have infiltrated the demonstrations.

If a Lebanon-like civil war erupts in Syria, it will be a matter of time before Turkey too catches fire. The Shi'ites and Alawis in Turkey (who form close to 20% of the population) will instinctively get involved in the Syrian maelstrom. Alawi-Salafi tensions are lurking just below the surface in Turkish society.

The Alawi groups in Turkey have formed an umbrella organization known as the Alawi-Bektashi Foundation, which regularly brings out reports to sensitize the world community on the alleged "rights violations targeting Alawis on the basis of inequality and discrimination" and "hate crimes" by Salafi elements associated with the Fetullah Gulen community.

The latest Alawi report titled "The Alawis as Target of the Community" details that the Gulen community of Salafis in Turkey is waging "black propaganda against the Alawis" to the effect that Alawis have "taken over the judiciary and the military; in Turkey there is a sectarian secularism; an Alawi elite is allowed to rule the Sunni masses", et al.

Kurdish backlash
But what Turkey must really guard against is the near-certain Kurdish backlash of which the signs are already appearing. Turkey's support for the Syrian opposition has already brought about some proximity between the Kurds and Damascus.

Pressed against the wall, Damascus can retaliate against Turkish interference by granting Syrian citizenship to the Kurdish settlers in northeastern Syria, especially Qamishli, which will inevitably pose serious headaches for Ankara in the long term.

Clearly, the Kurdish parties are dissociating from the Salafis in northern Syria and are signaling their willingness to work with the Syrian regime. There is some talk that if the situation deteriorates, Damascus may be left with no option but to arm the Kurdish groups to counter the Salafis.

In sum, Ankara needs to be wary that it is skating on thin ice by pushing the Syrian regime to a point of no return. The plain truth is that the Kurds will invariably take an opposing stand to the approach that Ankara adopts. Abudllah Ocalan, the leader of the Kurdistan Workers' Party in Turkey, lived for many years in exile in Syria.

Turkish interference in Syria has prompted prominent Kurdish leaders Jalal Talabani (Iraq's president) and Massoud Barzani (Kurdistan Region president) to voice support for Damascus. (Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki has also expressed solidarity with the Syrian regime by signing an agreement for the supply of 150,000 barrels of oil to Syria.)

Again, it was a historic victory of Turkey's "coercive diplomacy" that in 1998, Ankara amassed troops on the Syrian border threatening to invade and succeeded in literally brow-beating Damascus into agreeing to "demilitarize" the border regions with Turkey - and to expel Ocalan.

Now, against the backdrop of Turkish interference in the current situation, Damascus has dispatched its special forces to the Turkish border region after a gap of 13 years.

On top of this, Damascus chose to dispatch to the border the Fifteenth Division of its army, which is predominantly manned by Sunnis and is under the command of Sunni Syrian officers - rubbishing Ankara's facile assumption that the Syrian army's Sunni officers are about to desert the regime.

On the whole, Israel has rightly assessed that the Turks are beginning to get the Syrian message and are preparing to pipe down.

Ankara is winding down anti-Syria rhetoric and is gradually reviving its old platform of "zero problems" with its tough neighbors.

The irony is that Ankara is also compelled to revive the bonhomie with Iran and launch a concerted military offensive against Kurdish guerrillas in northern Iraq following the killing of 13 Turkish troops on July 14 in Diyarbakir province in eastern Turkey.

In a masterly move with impeccable timing, the Iranian army began operations on July 16 against Kurdish rebels in the Kandil mountains in northern Iraq. In a parallel move, the Turkish military also since began an operation in the Iraqi territory bordering Hakkari province in eastern Turkey.

Ankara is putting on a brave face and claiming that the Iranian and Turkish operations are not coordinated. That may be so in a formal sense. Tehran is not disputing the Turkish claim, either. But the Israelis are a smart lot and can sense perfectly well what is going on - that someone is jogging Turkey's memory that it still has an unfinished Kurdish problem of its own to prioritize, where it has a commonality of interests with Syria, Iraq and Iran.

Evidently, Israel has concluded that the Syrian-Iranian axis is very much intact despite the immense pressure from Saudi Arabia on Assad to break up with Tehran; the Syrian regime is nowhere near collapse despite the concerted pressure by Turkey, Saudi Arabia, France and the US; and, Qatar, which among all Persian Gulf Arab states is always quickest on the uptake, anticipates that an Arab Spring in Syria is going to be a tough call, far tougher than Libya, and Doha shouldn't aspire to punch so absurdly far above its light weight.

Incidentally, Qatar has shut down its embassy in Damascus and pulled out following the attacks on the American and French embassies and the al-Jazeera office in the Syrian capital. Most important, Israel estimates that Turkey has begun gradually backtracking from the path of interference in Syria.

All in all, the specter that haunts Israel is that if the turmoil in Syria abates, the attention of the international community will inevitably revert to the Palestine issue. Abbas is reiterating his intention to seek UN recognition for Palestine at the forthcoming general assembly session in New York in September.

Peres' stirring call is a clever attempt to stoke the fires in Syria. There would be nothing like it if a Lebanon-like civil war erupted in the golden triangle and Arabs, Kurds and Turks slaughtered one another.

At no point since the Arab Spring appeared on the Maghreb last December and took away the life of a street vendor in Tunis, could one have foreseen that the day would arrive when Israel became its standard-bearer in the Levant. The Middle East never ceases to throw up surprises.