Operation East of Euphrates: International Attitudes and Turkish Challenges

Operation East of Euphrates: International Attitudes and Turkish Challenges

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With the approach of zero hour for the Turkish army to cary out  military operation to establish a “safe zone” east of the Euphrates River in northern Syria, the scenarios for the operation, which Ankara has threatened for years, are becoming clearer than ever. Today is closer than ever in implementation.
According to many military data on the ground and the map of the deployment of Turkish troops on the borderline, the first phase of the operation will be between the areas of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ain, which extends for nearly 100 to 120 kilometers and will be a depth of 30 kilometers, the depth that Ankara had previously defined for the safe area in its first phase, this area will be a total area of 2,600 square kilometers.
In addition to many reports published by the Turkish press, the map of the US withdrawal so far supports this scenario, where US forces withdrew from two main points in Tal Abyad and Ras Al Ain, and the area from Tel Abyad to Ras Al Ain is now free of any US forces presence, noting that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s remarks focused for years on mentioning the two regions as one of the most important objectives of the expected operation east of the Euphrates.
The Turkish Ministry of Defense announced on Twitter that it had completed preparations to start a military operation in northeastern Syria. The ministry explained that it is necessary for it to establish a safe zone or a “peace corridor” as it called it, to contribute to stability and peace in the region, so that the Syrians can live in a safe atmosphere, adding that it will never allow the establishment of what it called the “terrorist corridor” on Turkey’s borders, It confirmed that it had completed all preparations for the military operation targeting the eastern Euphrates region, where the so-called Kurdish Democratic Forces are deployed , led by the Kurds and supported by the United States.
In the meantime, US forces began withdrawing from positions in northeastern Syria, to pave the way for an imminent Turkish military operation, against Kurdish armed forces. The Kurds see this US shift as a “stab in the back” after allowing a Turkish military operation against them. But US President Donald Trump said in a tweet this morning that the United States was engaged “more and more in a pointless war on the horizon.”
At the same time, US President Donald Trump threatened to destroy the Turkish economy if Turkey “crossed” the border, after his sudden decision to withdraw US troops from northern Syria. US President Donald Trump then defended his country’s relations with Turkey as a major trading partner, and Trump wrote on Twitter on Tuesday, “Many easily forget that Turkey is a major trade partner of the United States, in fact they (the Turks) make the steel frame of the American fighter F- 35, and the treat with them was well ” He added: “Let us always remember – and importantly – that Turkey is an important member of NATO’s good standing.” The US president noted that his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan will be his guest on the next November 13. And in a second series of angry tweets, the US president defended his decision that could pave the way for Turkey to launch an attack on Kurdish fighters across the border. Trump’s Republican allies have strongly criticized the decision to withdraw troops.
With the administration getting increasingly confused about Trump’s recent decisions and mounting disagreements between the White House and the Pentagon, it is not yet known whether Washington will open airspace in the region to the Turkish Air Force, or close it in an attempt to disrupt and complicate the Turkish operation.
If the airspace is open, the task will be much easier for Turkish forces, as the air force has finished preparations to carry out very large strikes with the participation of dozens of warplanes awaiting orders to take off from the bases of Malatya and Diyarbakir, which will help destroy all major targets before the ground move which will also need the support of military helicopters.
But if the airspace is closed, the task will be much more difficult, as the warplanes will have to carry out strikes with limited depth from within Turkish airspace, and ground advances will face the dilemma that helicopters cannot provide support from low altitudes, which means prolonging the operation.
The SDF said US statements that US forces did not intervene in a Turkish operation in northern Syria were “stabbing back” against forces led by Kurds . “There were assurances from the United States not to allow any Turkish military operations against the region,” said Kino Jibril, spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in an interview with Al-Hadath television. He added that the SDF had fully committed to an agreement on a “security mechanism” for the border area to which the United States was a guarantor. He continued saying ,”But the (US) statement issued today was surprising and we can say that it stabbed the back of the SDF.”

In exchange for American hesitation and inconsistency , yesterday witnessed a conflict in Kurdish positions between a critic of the Syrian regime and its allies Iran and Russia , and between those who indicate the possibility of dialogue with regime in preparation for the entry of its forces to the east of the Euphrates , a senior Kurdish leader SalehMuslim said ,” all they say that following the withdrawal of US forces from our region and in preparation for repelling the Turkish attack , we must quickly build bridges and alliance with Russia and the Syrian regime , and even accept the offer of Iran , but I tell every one : Iran , Russia and the Syrian regime are complicit with Turkey “.

In another Kurdish position that contradicts a Muslim statement , the SDF has expressed its intention to cooperate with the regime of Bashar al-Assad to face the upcoming Turkish operation east of the Euphrates , as said by Shheen Jallow who was called Mazloum Abdi , leader of the SDF , as quoted by media close to the BDD as saying that “they are thinking of cooperating with the Syrian regime to confront Turkey “.
The post-event wisdom says that the Kurds had to know that Donald Trump could not be relied upon. It is enough to count the agreements that the US president breached during his term, which include withdrawing from the nuclear deal with Iran, breaching various trade agreements, the “deal of the century” which turned out to be like a balloon, freezing aid to the Palestinians and his great failure to conclude new agreements or resolve disputes. We understand that this is a hysterical and brutal approach aimed at breaking down “old” regimes, because Trump was not a partner.
The abandonment of the Kurds expected in northeastern Syria is another episode in the chain of evils. In Trump’s eyes, the Kurds, whose blood was shed in the war against ISIS and proved themselves as the most effective local forces in the fight against jihadists, are no more than a militia whose role has ended, but now go to hell.
Internationally, the United Nations said civilians should be protected from any Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria, where the UN hopes to prevent abuses or massive displacements. Panos Moumcis, the regional humanitarian coordinator for the Syrian crisis, told reporters in Geneva that the UN had prepared contingency plans for aid. He added “We hope for the best but prepare for the worst.” He said the United Nations had a “bitter history” of safe areas in places like Srebrenica.
Orobia has warned European Union from any Turkish operation against the Kurds in the northern Syria , and the spokeswomen said in a press statement,”In the light of statements by Turkey and the United States regarding developments in the situation, we can emphasize that, while we recognize Turkey’s legitimate concerns, the EU has said from the beginning that a sustainable situation will not be achieved by military means. ”
For his part, a spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, said his country was very concerned about Turkey’s plans for a military operation in northern Syria. And when he was asked about US President Donald Trump’s remarks , he said that Britain was “very happy” with the shift in his policy on Syria, Johnson’s spokesman added US troop movements were a matter for the United States.

The German government also warned Turkey against a military attack in northern Syria, Ulrike Demer, deputy government spokesman today in Berlin said, “Such a military intervention would also lead to another escalation in Syria.” At the same time, the spokeswoman showed an understanding of Turkey’s security interests in the border region. Federal Interior Ministry spokesman Steve Alter said, Interior Minister Horst Seehofer told Turkish officials in Ankara last week that the federal government had “reservations” over Turkish plans to create a “safe area” for refugees in Syria.
French minister Edoured Philippe defended his countries’s policy in northeastern Syria, saying that contrary to American hesitation, the priority for Paris remained to defeat ISIS and maintain the forces fighting the organization and led by Kurds. The French minister criticized, “the obvious hesitation shown by specific partners, especially American friends.

The criticism that the EU countries hear against the US move and against the intentions of the Turkish invasion goes unnoticed through Erdogan’s ear. He has apressure card of a refugee agreement he signed with the EU, which Turkey is committed to preventing the transfer of refugees from its territory to European countries. Erdogan has recently threatened to open gates and give refugees permission to leave Turkey as they please if the EU does not complete the transfer of the billions pledged in the deal, and stunned the union with which it is negotiating to prevent such developments. Against the backdrop of this tension, the EU could knock on his tongue or wav his finger, and speculate that the crucial phone call between Erdogan and Trump offered a refugee agreement and its implications for European countries as a whip waved by Erdogan in order to persuade Trump to allow him to implement his plan in Syria.
Dmitry Peskov, a Kremlin spokesman, said on Monday that Syrian territorial integrity should be preserved after the United States announced the withdrawal of troops from northeastern Syria. Peskov told reporters that Moscow knows that Turkey shares it the same position on the territorial integrity of Syria. He added “We hope that our Turkish colleagues will abide by this position in all circumstances.”

Later, Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov called for a dialogue between the Syrian regime and the Kurds on the situation in northeastern Syria , amid anticipation of a military operation Turkey says it will launch at any moment in the region .and Russian media quoted as Lavarov saying that Russia encourages such dialogue and ready to push it forward . , Lavrov also called for the protection of Syrian territorial integrity as Turkish troops prepare for an imminent operation. Lavrov said US activities in northeastern Syria were contradictory and showed Washington was unable to reach agreements, describing the behavior as a “dangerous game that could spark unrest in the whole region “.

TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iranian Foreign Minister Mehmet Javad Zarif told his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday that Tehran “opposed” a military operation in Syria, an official statement said. During a telephone conversation with Oglu, Zarif also urged ” to respect for Syria’s territorial integrity and national sovereignty, and stressed the need to combat terrorism and bring stability and security to Syria,” . According to the statement of Foreign Ministry late Monday , US President Donald Trump seemed as if he had cleared the scene in front of a Turkish attack on Kurdish forces in northern Syria.

Political analysis sees the US withdrawal from northeast Syria to pave the way for an imminent Turkish military operation against Kurdish-led armed forces. That decision may have given the poisoned and mined gift to the Turkish president, and lured him and his army into a very dangerous trap, which may be difficult to get out of it , just like the Saudi trap in Yemen, and the US in Afghanistan and Iraq, while recognizing the existence of some differences, Trump can not forgive the Turkish president to buy Russian S-400 missile systems, and their preference over the US Patriot system.
Trump’s withdrawal of US troops from Syria and taking his country out of this absurd war is not a new poisoned stab in the Kurdish back that it has never learned from previous US stabs, and may also be a prelude to a full military withdrawal from the entire region, whether from Iraq, Saudi Arabia or Kuwait, and all US bases in the Gulf region, in keeping with the promises Trump made during his presidential campaign.

In the Syrian revolution, Hussein Sakr said, ” there is something fishy ( Behind the hill is something suspicious ), and the Turkish regime’s intention goes for further bad and dangerous escalation in the north of Syria, where the picture is complete in his mind , but there are not only difficulties to apply it on the ground, but impossible to implement.”

The writer adds that Erdogan ” plans for a long stay in the Syrian territory, and wants behind it to annex those areas of what had been occupied during the Ottoman invasion and French colonization, that is, to return to the era of Mandate, division and annexation , and this will not be done or happened , because what happened in the past will not be repeated today, and work will be underway to liberate what has been occupied, so maneuvering in this regard is a kind of lost gamble no more . ”
Abdul Moneim Ali Issa writes in the Syrian al-Watan , saying that “the most likely scenario is that Turkish forces will enter the areas of control (Syrian Democratic Forces) with Russian consent and American silence and he will have no choice but to proceed with the withdrawal of troops from that region … What is remarkable in this context is The Syria Study Group, a 12-member committee of Republicans and Democrats alike, recommended in a September 25 report to Trump not to withdraw from Syria, but their positions will be weakened when Ankara takes military action that It seems to be certain. ”

“Once again not lastly, Washington is turning its back on its allies and this time they are the Kurds of Syria, who put all their eggs in the American basket,” says Mohammed Kharroub in al-Rai newspaper (Jordanian opinion).
The writer believes that the withdrawal is “a green American light for the NATO ally, which will find no one prevents it from invading northern Syria and the establishment of its alleged safe zone and the depth that it wants … as long as the ones who paid and will pay the price is Syria, its people and territorial integrity and will establish again to revive the scheme of partition of Syria.”
In the same context, Hazem Ayad believes in alSabeel news paper that “the White House presented a less dramatic picture of Trump’s tweets in an attempt to mitigate the impact of America’s abandonment of its Kurdish separatist allies using diplomatic language, in which the White House announced that the United States will not support or participate in Turkey Operations in northern Syria. ”
The writer added , “What happened in northern Syria is going to happen elsewhere , as on Saturday, September 29, we witnessed the temporary relocation of air command from al-Udeid base in Qatar to America as a test maneuver that has proved successful. America will certainly withdraw from other regions, including Afghanistan soon; “It can not be hidden or justified by the Department of Defense, the State Department, or the White House professional diplomats.”
The only country that can prevent the Turkish operation is Russia, but Russia has an interest in allowing Turkey to strengthen its position in northern Syria, where it can implement the agreement signed between Moscow and Ankara in September 2018, which – according to it – disarm and disperse tens of thousands of armed rebels based in the region of Idlib. Turkey has in the past supported a number of these rebels, and Syria’s vast area under its control will enable it to propose to them, at least in theory, to quietly exit from Idlib. Thus a tough battle against them by Syrian and Russian forces would be prevented, a battle that could move a new wave of refugees towards Turkey. The question is whether the rebels will agree to disarm and will not fight against the forces of President Bashar al-Assad, who began to occupy areas in Idlib province.

Russia and Assad have an interest in returning Syrian refugees from Turkey and other countries they fled to, in order to prove that Syria has turned into a safe place and to strengthen the Arab foundation in the Kurdish provinces. But Turkish control will also pose a big problem for Assad and Russia, where the Turkish military presence in Syrian territory is an obstacle to the spread of Syrian sovereignty over the entire country. As a result, Turkey and Russia will have to discuss this to set a timetable for Turkey’s future withdrawal, apparently coordinated as the political process progresses to end the war.

Militarily, military experts predict that Turkey’s progress will be easy for several kilometers, but securing and combing the area will take longer, especially as the area is densely populated and inhabited by several million Kurds, Arabs and Syrians, mostly agricultural areas. And SDF in which Kurdish fighters form its backbone have gained advanced quantities and quality of American weapons during the battles against ISIS, which may make it difficult for the Turks mission, and the absence of air cover of the Turkish army from areas in more than ten kilometers from its borders will make it difficult for its mission over time, the Turkish army will seek assistance by unmanned aircraft (drone), not by the air force, since the areas of operations are under the air control of the international coalition forces.
The biggest challenge is the prospect of Kurdish forces releasing hundreds of ISIS fighters held in its prisons in response to US withdrawal and abandonment, after having achieved great success in helping Washington defeat the militant group in northern and eastern Syria. It would put Turkey in a confrontation of another kind, in the event they infiltrate to its territory or regroup their ranks.
The other challenge is internal and relates to the position of the Kurds of Turkey on what is happening, with the possibility of violence and riots in the Kurdish cities in south and southeast Turkey, adding a new burden on the Turkish security establishment, in light of the news that Turkish security is strengthening its forces in cities of Kurdish majority, in anticipation of any emergency. It remains to be noted that the form of confrontation and the nature of the Kurdish response to the Turkish moves, may reflect negatively on the Turkish economy and the exchange rates of the local currency, in light of the economic crisis experienced by the country for years, which would complicate matters if the process is prolonged.

Trenches and underground tunnels are one of the most important obstacles to the Turkish operation, as Kurdish units there have established tunnels fortified with concrete cement along several kilometers below the ground to move freely and carry out operations in the back lines of advanced forces, as happened in Afrin. But from other point the Turkish army and the Syrian opposition factions have gained more experience in dealing with these tunnels and ways of defending the Kurdish units through the Afrin operation .The Turkish army has collected very extensive intelligence information over the past years about the headquarters, trenches and tunnels of Kurdish units in the region. It may help it to deal with it at the lowest possible losses.
Despite the failure of the recent Safe Zone Agreement between Washington and Ankara, the Turkish military has benefited from the steps implemented over the past weeks, either by destroying part of the fortifications of Kurdish units, or by gathering broader intelligence in the framework of ground and air patrols carried out in cooperation with the American side.
Trump’s move, which contradicts the position of the Pentagon and the CIA, will have a far-reaching impact beyond Syria and US relations with Turkey. It reinforces the hypothesis that America has no friends in the Middle East, and that any coalition that is still in force is on the way for a retest and is at risk of unilateral cancellation. The first country to know about the vicissitudes that characterize the US administration is Saudi Arabia, which watched with alarm how Trump hastened to negotiate with Iran. The attack on Saudi oil facilities that Iran seems to have carried out and carried out by forces operating in its own hands is considered a Saudi affair that Riyadh alone can decide how to respond to it.
America’s abandonment of Syria benefits Iran well, at least politically. It reinforces its claim that the United States should not be relied on because it gives up its allies in times of crisis, and that its refusal to conduct direct negotiations with the United States is based on legitimate foundations. Israel, one of Trump’s blind followers, could find itself in distress before the Trump approach. It seems to be counting on Trump to give her a free hand in the territories, including annexation, his advisers have said. But the timeliness of any coalition will be complicated by Trump which requires caution and suspicion.

At this point , it is not clear that Ankara is playing a verbal threat game only , as the military field preparations have been done for weeks . And they are underway now . The Turkish parliament will not hesitate to give the government the authority to start a large-scale operation in northern Syria . It is true that the stated objectives of the operation indicate the need to establish a safe area or “corridor that contributes to stability and pace in the region ” , and ” enable the Syrians to live in the dignified atmosphere” , as the statement of Turkish ministry of Defense , but the biggest objective behind the operation is the one explained by Erdogan repeatedly about the expulsion of Kurdish militants out of varying depth areas inside northern Syria .

Hence . it may be logical to favor a deal of understanding between Washington and Ankara agreed during the phone conversation that brought Erdogan and Trump together , and that the first loser will be the Kurdish forces that allied with the Pentagon east of Euphrates, and bet on the mistake that Washington will prevent this operation and impose explicit protection for Kurdish militants in the face of the Turkish army . As usual , the Kurds listened to statements by US Defense Secretary Mark Esper during his visit to Ankara just a few weeks ago, and they believed what he said about Washington ‘s insistence on preventing any Turkish military incursion into Syrian territory and Kurdish militant areas .

On the other hand , there are no clear or sufficient indications about the effectiveness of the objection and anxiety statements issued by Iran , Russia or even Britain . It is difficult to say that Ankara has not matured the option of interference on a quiet fire if it required stages of consultation with White House and thus the coverage of the operation is not limited to diplomatic insurance alone but may also include different levels of logistical coordination. Surprisingly , Moscow has expressed double surprise at Trump’s announcement of withdrawing dozens of US troops from northern Syria and Ankara’s announcement of preparations for the military operation , in exchange for Russia officials claiming that the Kremlin did not know the two developments together .

The simple and decisive question is this: has the deal finally matured between Washington and Ankara and the various actors at the expense of the Kurdish armed factions, as it was repeatedly made in the past.

Turkish Studies Unit
Rawabet Center for Research and Strategic Studies