Monthly Archives: August 2016

The impacts of Turkey’s new position on Syrian crisis

The regional dynamics are clearly imposing a new reality on the Syrian crisis, while the military coup in Turkey has created the opportunity for the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to reposition himself and his administration taking a systematic approach to change his previous policies and use a new style of politics to solidify his position.

Since May 2016 when Ahmet Davutoglu lost the Prime Ministership, the Turkish government has been changing its policy settings in order to break the isolation from other countries due to its former policies. Restoring relations with Russia was one of the major priorities. The Turkish President’s recent visit to St Petersburg was a practical step in this direction, where discussions included Turkey’s new position on the Syrian crisis. It is important to remember the tensions between Turkey and Russia over the last 12 months due to clashing involvement in Syria.

The logic behind the move is Turkey’s priority to prevent any possible future for an independent Kurdish state. Turkey has allies in this endeavor as Syria and Iran also oppose an independent Kurdish state and this common goal has brought them together to face this potential threat to their interests. The shift in language from Turkish officials highlights this as they express their concerns about protecting the sovereignty and unity of the Syrian state.

It is now in Turkey’s interests to stabilize Syria as soon as possible as prolonging the crisis only increases the changes of a new Kurdish state somewhere along the Turkish-Syrian border.

This shift in priority and action from Turkey regarding Syria could be a real game changer. The Turkish-Russian rapprochement means that Ankara no longer views Syria through the zero sum lens of toppling the regime versus maintaining the crisis, but as an existential threat to its borders, no matter whom else support such a move.

As a result, the US has been forced to act on its own without intermediaries, especially in northern Syria. US warplanes have flown over the city of Hasakah in a symbolic gesture to protect the balance of power in that region. Until recently, the US worked very closely with Turkey in actions in Syria.

All this suggests that military escalation in the north of Syria is highly possible, especially in areas controlled by Kurdish forces. While this shift in Turkish policy could rebalance power and influence in the region, it will definitely lead to a noticeable change in the crisis in Syria.

The interesting question, however, is whether this new position from Turkey is real or just a temporary tactical move that on one hand is a powerful move to further its own strategic interests in the region, but on the other provides leverage for Turkey amongst its key allies. The impact on internal Turkish politics could be the key to this and to whether Erdogan can maintain the distancing from the US, by playing into Russia’s hands.

Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh

Constructive criticism helps improve performance

The state of perpetual crisis and ongoing security risks in the Middle East over the last six years has put a lot of stress on internal security services across the region.

Jordan, in particular, continues to face extraordinary internal security challenges from the fall of Iraq in 2003 and the Syrian crisis has only increased the pressure and strain on the Jordanian security system.

With no end to these challenges in sight, the load and pressure is only going to increase and given the dynamic nature of the situation could evolve and change at any time.

With the security services on full alert 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, the pressure on the system and individual personnel can impact performance and the capacity to cope and respond to the increasing levels of crime and the heightened risk of terrorism.

Without advocating any policy, it is important to acknowledge that this kind of pressure is bound to result in some mistakes being made. It is also important to acknowledge that individuals who are putting themselves in harms way to protect our society are doing their best in an extremely difficult situation.

Individual mistakes are not necessarily the result of incompetence, nor are they indicative of a fault in the system.

While the system should, and does learn from its mistakes to identify ways to improve the system and maintain our safety, security is not the only challenge the Jordanian state is currently facing.  There are also huge political challenges, which include protecting, strengthening and improving Jordanian institutions to face down these challenges during a turbulent time in the region.

Security is clearly the priority of most countries in the region at the moment and in Jordan the security and military establishment have played and continue to play a key role in maintaining internal peace.

We must acknowledge the effort and the successes, we must be careful to focus on constructive criticism, which strengthens our country versus those that seek to destroy our system. We must focus on improving the system rather than seeking revenge.

Mistakes do not diminish the successes of our system in maintaining our security and they must not be used to characterize the institutions that are integral to our continued way of life.

When mistakes are made, there should be a pragmatic approach to identify whether there is a need to improve our system and we must recognize when it is simply human error, made under duress. We are in a crisis and while punishment may make us feel better temporarily, it does not necessarily make us stronger, not does it make us safer.

We must learn from mistakes, where we can, to make our system stronger. But we must also remember that our institutions are the very system that are keeping us safe, and it is in everyone’s interest to protect them and make them stronger. Attacking our own institution for their mistakes, or even their limitations, is not in our interests, in fact it is in our enemies interests to do so.

There have been many reports of mistakes and scandals in international security systems. We must distinguish between human error, systems under intense strain and actual broken institutions. In all of these situations our priority must be to fix the underlying problem, improve and strengthen our institutions and support them in maintaining our safety. Surely that is the ultimate goal and measure of success.

Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh

الاتراك و معادلات تغيير مسار الازمات

واقع جديد تفرضه معطيات الازمات في المنطقة. محاولة الانقلاب في تركيا قدمت للرئيس التركي فرصة ذهبية لاعادة التموضع السياسي و انتهاج نهج براغماتي قادر على احداث تغيير حقيقي في السياسة التركية و الخروج من مأزق خيارات المرحلة السابقة.

انتهجت حكومة العدالة و التنمية منذ خروج احمد داوود اوغلو سياسة تهدف للخروج من مأزق العزلة الدولية عبر التلويح بالانقلاب على المواقف السابقة للحكومة التركية خصوصاً مواقفها من دول الاقليم و روسيا. الا ان الخطوات العملية لهذا التحول التركي بدأت فعلياً مع زيارة الرئيس اردوغان الى سان بطرسبرغ و الاتفاق على تحديد اولويات جديدة في طبيعة التعاطي التركي مع الازمة السورية.

وجهة النظر المنطقية تشير ان الاولوية التركية الحالية المتمثلة في مواجهة مشروع الدولة الكردية تضع تركيا و سوريا و ايران -التي سيزورها اردوغان قريباً- في نفس المصاف، مصاف الدول المتضررة من مشروع الدولة الكردية. المصلحة المشتركة لهذه الدول تجعل من مشروع الدول الكردية قاسماً مشتركاً لصيغة تفاهمات جديدة، الامر الذي يفسر الحديث التركي المتكرر مؤخراً عن ضرورة حماية وحدة الاراضي السورية، و هو تعبير عن قناعة تركية بأن استمرار الازمة السورية ووصولها الى نقطة المساس بوحدة الاراضي السورية سيكون انعكاسه الاكبر على الدولة التركية في المقام الاول. هذا ما يفسر السعي التركي الحثيث لمواجهة اي تحرك كردي قد يفضي مستقبلاً لمشروع انشاء دولة او كيان مستقل على الحدود التركية السورية.

التغير في طبيعة التعاطي التركي مع الازمات في المنطقة و على رأسها الأزمة السورية بات يمثل عامل التغيير الأكبر. فالتقارب الروسي التركي يعني منطقياً ان انقرة لم تعد تتعاطى مع الازمة السورية ضمن الخطوط الجمراء السابقة، خصوصاً فيما يتعلق برؤية اسقاط النظام في سوريا او اطالة امد الازمة. تركيا ستسعى لاستثمار هذا التقارب حصرياِ لافشال مشروع الدولة الكردية، خصوصاً ان سياسات كثير من الدول الكبرى تتماهى بوضوح مع هذا المشروع.

الولايات المتحدة تجد نفسها اليوم مضطرة للتحرك على الارض في سوريا دون وسطاء اي بمعنى اخر ان تركيا و سياستها في سوريا و خصوصاً في الشمال السوري لم تعد تصب في خانة الولايات المتحدة و مبدأ توازن القوى على الارض و الذي كانت تحدثه السياسة التركية و تستمره واشنطن سياسياً.

 الاحداث الحالية تشير بوضوح الى ارتفاع في احتماليات التصعيد القادم في الشمال السوري خصوصاً في المناطق التي تسيطر أو قد تسيطر عليها القوات الكردية. السياسة التركية الحالية قد لا تعيد خلط اوراق الازمة السورية فقط بل قد تؤسس الى تغير ملفت في طبيعة و شكل الازمات في المنطقة. و يبقى السؤال الاهم  يتمحور حول حقيقة التغير التركي و ان كان هذا التغيير منهجياً ام تكتيكاً مرحلياً، و كذلك قدرة السياسة التركية على احداث مثل هذه التحولات التي قد لا تتقاطع مع سياسة حلفاء أنقرة التاريخيين و قدرة أنقرة علي التعاطي مع الانعكاسات الامنية التي قد تطال الداخل التركي الناتجة عن مثل هذ التحولات.

د.عامر السبايلة

Aleppo battle and the Turkish Russian rapprochement

Many analysts believe that the battle that is currently underway in Aleppo could see the end of the Syrian crisis. However, it would be a mistake to think that this battle will come to its conclusion easily. From the very start of the Syrian crisis, this city has represented the weakest point for the Syrian regime. It is not near the traditional strongholds of the Syrian government and holds a strategic position on the Turkish-Syrian border, which is a major entry point for weapons and fighters into Syria.

The battle could lead to a political solution in Syria, a process which has been stalled. The Syrian Army and its allies are pushing hard to capture the city in order to secure a key strategic foot hold on the border, so it is likely there will be a concerted effort, in what could be a bloody, drawn out battle. Many of the groups who are fighting will fall if the regime can capture the city, in fact some are even calling it the “promised battle”.

Some reports indicate that opposition groups have received new supplies of US-made anti-tank missiles in order to hold Aleppo. Meanwhile, the Russians appear to have little involvement at this stage. Moscow appears to be focused on influencing Turkish politics in order to achieve its ends in Syria. The recent summit in St. Petersburg between Putin and Erdogan was an important step for both Erdogan who is seeking his way out of his internal crisis and Putin who is leveraging recent events in Turkey to put an end to the Syrian crisis. While Turkey’s role remains ambiguous, regional powers are clearly facilitating and supporting fighters in Syria and the border areas.

Politically, there is pressure on Erdogan to From a political point of view, many new factors might influence Erdogan to fall in line. Recent events have highlighted renewed calls for a Kurdish state, which could align Turkey with Syria and Iran who are also pushing back on the idea. The prospect of economic cooperation with Russia including various strategic projects could lead Erdogan to rethink his political positions and the way in which they have aggravated the situation in Syria. Erdogan’s desire to free himself from the demands of western powers could also find him compromising with Russia, at least in Syria..

The battle in Aleppo is the last tactical confrontation with a clear path for a political solution to follow. While the battle may no end the Syrian crisis altogether, it could very well mark the beginning of a political process that brings an eventual end to the conflict in Syria. It is, in fact likely to lead to a battle in the city of Dara’s in the southern part of Syria.

Over the coming days, we will see if Erdogan is really willing to cooperate with Putin in Syria. If not, Moscow may find itself obliged to step in to Aleppo and restart the frozen political process in Geneva.

Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh

Divisions from psychology to geography

Over the last century, turbulence has been the status quo in the Middle East. This continuous crisis has seen various trends come and go, and the last five years have further highlighted sectarian divisions, both ethnic and religious, within and across borders.

Many believe that sectarian differences also represent psychological divisions amongst people. Given the arbitrary origins of the current borders, perhaps a regional stabilization strategy could involve aligning these psychological divisions with geographical ones.

Some of the sectarian divisions can be traced back to the Iranian revolution in 1979, which was closely followed by the eruption of Persian-Arab conflict with the almost decade long Iran-Iraq war. This period also saw a rise in Wahhabism as Khomeini doctrine fostered division between Shias and Sunnis, Arabs and Persians.

Since then, sectarianism has taken on more complex dimensions, while the Shia-Sunni and Persian-Arab tensions still exist, in some situations those differences have been put aside to further other agendas.

After the fall of Iraq in 2003, a new wave of sectarianism swept through the region. There is a school of thought that Iraq will struggle to maintain its national identity due to the divisions and sectarianism amongst its population. Syria faces many of the same challenges, as does Yemen and likely any other country in the region where internal conflict boils over.

The trend is towards a weakening of national identity while regional groups, ethnicities and sects are the modern component parts of identity in the Middle East. Ethnicity and religious identity being the strongest identifier, weakening social structures and fragmenting countries and nations in the region as we know them.

Much like with the establishment of the current borders, secularism was the only remedy for these trends, however we have seen a systematic anti-secular approach following the II World War. We have seen a marriage of Theocracy and Autocracy spreading, and having a distinctly negative impact on the cultural identity on countries across the region.

In addition, historically, international intervention has been focused on secular countries such as Egypt, Iraq and Syria. The recent coup in Turkey appears to be the leverage President Erdogan needed to shift the last secular system in the region towards a more “theocratic regime” as he eliminates his opposition and weakens the secular military power base, which acted as the counter balance to his Islamic preferences.

These developments are likely to encourage some of Turkey’s minority communities to push for independence. Groups such as the Kurds and the Alawites, who also live in Syria and Iraq already want their own country, and their further marginalization in all of the countries they currently live in has only spurred them on.

The failure to build secular national identities is one of the major reasons that we are seeing such fragmentation, in combination with the growing power and authority the region cedes to religion.

Mark Sykes, the British Foreign Secretary and architect of the modern borders of the region, 100 years ago, noted that the people of the region have a very strong ethnic pride, and building national identifies would be a challenge.

The destination of path we are currently on, with rising ethnic and sectarian division, is likely to be a shift from psychological and cultural division to geographical ones.

Dr. Amer Al Sabaileh