U.S., Israel, and Russia: Winners and Losers in the Middle East Game of High Stakes Poker

Saudi Arabia wants to take Al-Raqqa in Syria, considered the de-facto capital of the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) terrorist group. To do so, Saudi forces must take a somewhat roundabout ground route to reach Al-Raqqa, starting in Jordan and then circling through Iraq’s western Al-Anbar Province in order to avoid southern Iraq’s Shia enclaves and Jordan’s Sunni enclaves, both of which are supporting ISIS. The Shia in Southern Iraq and the Sunni’s in the Jordanian desert are blocking the Saudis from a one-country route or a direct route into Syria. Of course the Sunni tribes in western Al-Anbar Province are also hostile to the Saudis and have deep ties with the ISIS leadership in Syria and Jordan, but payoffs over the years from the governments of Jordan and the United States have ensured and will continue to ensure that the old Sons of Iraq Sunni tribes in Al-Anbar will remain passive (at least initially) and not take action against Saudi supply lines.

Prior to the Saudi ground operations against ISIS in Al-Raqqa, the Kurds will probably have attacked Turkey and may do so prior to or on Eid Nowruz, the 2016 Persian New Year, which the Kurds also celebrate. The Kurds are motivated to attack Turkey partly because of Turkey’s seizure of 500-plus members and supporters of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK) in retaliation for the most recent bombing in Ankara. A PKK offshoot, known as the Kurdistan Freedom Falcons (TAK), has claimed responsibility for the attack. The communist separatist PKK has been deemed a terrorist group by Turkey and the United States, among other countries.

Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) President Masoud Barzani has already stated that if the attack in Ankara was committed by the PKK, this will start the war between the Turks and the Kurds. The reality is that this war will be bloody and ugly, and will force Ankara to declare a state of civil emergency in Turkey, which means no one will be spared when Turkey unleashes its military might against the Kurds in southern Turkey. Sunday’s blast came as Turkey’s security forces were preparing to launch large-scale operations against militants in two mainly Kurdish towns after authorities imposed curfews there, prompting some residents to flee. The United States still refuses Turkey’s demands of adding the Syrian Kurds to the list of terrorist groups, saying it regards the Syrian Kurds as a vital ally in the fight against the Islamic State.

Nevertheless, the U.S. has warned the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD), which controls large swaths of northern Syria, and its armed wing, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), not to support the PKK in Turkey.

Turkish officials suspect that Syrian Kurds are behind the attack.

To further complicate matters, representatives from Syria’s Kurdish region on Thursday (17 MAR 16), declared that they would form a new federal system of governance, giving a more unified voice to Syrian Kurdish demands for greater autonomy. Now that the Syrian Kurds have declared independence, and given that the KRG has established its own region in Iraq, the Kurds in Turkey will have no choice but to also declare their independence from Turkey as that nation begins its ground operations against the PKK.

The declaration of a PKK governmental region for the Turkish Kurds will be the only means by which the Kurds can enable the creation of a “Greater Kurdistan” encompassing the Kurdish areas in Syria, Iraq, and Turkey. However, Iran, Turkey, and Iraq cannot allow this entity to be created because the creation of a “Greater Kurdistan” means the death of their national aspirations to secure their current borders. Therefore, the three countries will form a military coalition and undertake to destroy the new Kurdish state.

Once this triumvirate begins its attacks on multiple fronts against the Kurds, Barzani—who owes his success in establishing and maintaining an economic and political footprint to the Turks—will be checkmated once and for all. He will have to make a decision: either join with the Kurds or the Turks in this war. No one knows what he will decide. Quite possibly, not even Barzani himself knows what his decision will be.

Nor do we know—should Barzani choose to cast his lot with the Kurds—which of the new Kurdish nations he will join and support. This raises another question: can the three Kurdish “nations” put aside their many political differences to unite and form a Greater Kurdistan? Given the past record of enmity and violence that has characterized relations between the Kurdish groups, it is hard to imagine a scenario that will bring them together. The Kurds have always been tribal and of their leaders have been willing to serve under anyone’s banner other than their own. And why would they? These leaders have made huge fortunes laundering billions of dollars for various and companies and, further, they have “accepted” vast amounts of money from the Russians, Americans, Israelis, Iranians, and anyone else who is willing to pump money into their coffers in hopes of establishing a relationship with at least one Muslim ally in the region.

Given the track record of corruption exhibited by Kurdish leaders in the past, it is unlikely that those relationships will prove to be enduring over the long term.

In the event, we may expect the formation of three separate Kurdish entities rather than a single, united Greater Kurdistan. We may also expect that these entities will be unable to get along and end up fighting each other, just as they have in the past. Such a scenario will prove a decidedly mixed blessing for the United States, Russia, and Israel.

In particular the United States will on one hand the U.S. will be the beneficiary of a lucrative trade in arms and related military equipment to all these entities, providing them with the needed equipment and support that they will need to sustain themselves. On the other hand, it will not be able to form enduring relationships with any of the entities because they are already on Russian and Israeli payrolls.

They may, however, be willing to shift their loyalties in light of the opportunities that will arise to exploit their “national” benefits. Such opportunities will inevitably result in the Kurdish states being “governed” (in a manner of speaking) by corrupt and untrustworthy leaders who will not feel any loyalty or real friendship toward the U.S., and who will betray the U.S. just as soon as it is no longer in their interests to be on our side.

The template for this kind of duplicitous relationship and political failure it engenders can be found in the U.S.-Saudi “alliance.” The Saudis are “friends” of the U.S., supposedly, and are using warplanes purchased from the U.S. to secure their national interests. They are also using the same aircraft to strike targets in Yemen. Some of those strikes have resulted in collateral damage, i.e., the deaths of innocent civilians. As one might expect, the nations taking part in the peace talks currently being held to end the conflict in Yemen are blaming the U.S. for those casualties. In other words, the Saudis kill at random and the U.S. gets the blame.

As a result, the U.S. finds itself in a position where it can be blackmailed by anyone it supports. If tomorrow it supports Turkey by providing it with equipment needed to fight the Kurds, it will be blamed for the Kurdish deaths suffered at the hands of Turkish military. If it supplies the Kurds, Turkey will blackmail the U.S. by lending support to groups that are accused of conducting terrorist attacks inside of Turkey, a U.S. NATO ally. Either way the U.S. will end up using more money to keep its “allies” close.

The U.S may earn money in our weapons trade and other trade relationships with the various Middle Eastern belligerents, but our prestige will suffer a fatal blow from which we can never recover. This also holds true for Israel, which is the only democracy in the region. The Israelis will be blamed for arming the Kurds, who will oppress all minorities in Iraq and Syria—including the Yazidis and Assyrians—in order to ensure that their lands are secured for Kurdish and Israeli oil interests in the region. Sadly, by doing so Israel will be supporting individuals who are taking advantage of these minorities at a time when they are suffering through genocide, something Jews are no strangers to.

So if Saudi finally destroys ISIS and takes Al-Raqqa, it will not do so because it cares about defeating a great enemy of the world. It will do so for only one reason: to ensure that Iran no longer has the ability to influence the course of events in Lebanon and Syria. The goal of the Saudis is to block Iran, both geographically and political, in its drive for regional hegemony. Ironically, Al-Raqqa use to be under our control before we lost it to the Russians; now it appears it will fall under Saudi control. If the Saudis are successful in Al-Raqqa, we may postulate three scenarios as to what will happen next:

Scenario 1: Turkey will partner with the Saudis to isolate Iran politically and militarily in the region, and to defeat Kurdish aspirations in Syria and southern Turkey. In this scenario Turkey will fight Iran, and Iran will fight Turkey by killing as many Kurds as possible within Iraq and Syria.

Scenario 2: Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria will be destroyed, and this will strengthen the hand of Sunnis in thee effort to isolate and eliminate Iranian-allied Shia communities in the region. If this scenario plays out, Iran cannot fight against the Saudis given that Saudi Arabia will claim it is fighting against ISIS—which is what Russia did when it began bombing U.S. allies in Syria five months ago. Because it must not allow itself to be isolated from the global community, Iran will find it impossible to stay neutral when the Saudi go in to Al-Raqqa. Iran will come to the aid of its allies in Syria by funding and supporting the Kurds in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria, and also the Shiites in Syria and Jordan, for the purpose of fighting the Turks and the Saudis. As a result the entire region, but particularly Jordan, will be further destabilized, and the ranks of ISIS fighters will surely be swelled by an influx of volunteers. Here it should be pointed out that the Muslim Kurds have traditionally eaten from Russian hands. Because Iran is aligned with Russia, if Iran asks for something we may assume that it is really the Russians who are doing the asking, given their need to keep Syrian leadership in power and to set the stage for a Greater Kurdistan to be established.

Let us not forget that the Kurds are also fighting Turkey. Which means that if Iran asks the Kurds to fight Turkey and Saudi Arabia, they are really asking on behalf of Russia. The result will be, again, an increase in ISIS numbers and ISIS and the Kurds will end up fighting separate wars against the same foes.

Scenario 3: The Saudis will enter the war to ensure that Kurdish forces cannot declare independence in the region of Syria, ensuring that no one creates a non-Arabic nation within the current Arab states. America will have to make a decision to either support the Kurds in Syria and its current opposition forces, or to support the Saudis, which is its traditional ally. Given that the U.S. and the United Nations have stated that they will not support a Kurdish Region separate from a federal Syria and/or Iraq, they will not be able to walk these decisions back. If the United States chooses an option that favors the Saudis, it is effectively choosing to support ISIS. If it choses in favor of Kurds, that means it is supporting Russian allies in the region at a cost to its reputation and resources, while Russia sits out of the game watching America being sucked into a quagmire in Syria. As for Israel, by then it will have figured out that it should have invested in a more reliable ally than the Kurdish tribesmen in the region and will have to fight against American interests in the region, further isolating its foreign policy from the U.S. policy makers regardless of who becomes the next president of the United States.

The greater loser in this “game” is the U.S. because Russia expands its footprint through proxies in Iraq, Syria, and Turkey. Yesterday Russian President Putin stated that in one hour he could bring back the military forces he extracted from Syria. With a cease-fire is in place and peace talks ongoing one might wonder to whom this comment was directed. But there is no mystery: this was a direct warning to the U.S. and Turkey that they should not interfere in Syrian affairs.

Unfortunately, the U.S. has no other choice or option because it checkmated itself into this position by pulling its forces out of Iraq. Russia knows that the current U.S. administration will not formally commit forces to fight in Syria out of fear that doing so might turn the American electorate against the Democrat presidential candidate in the 2016 election. Russia also knows that the current administration, which views the region from a political rather than a security perspective, will delay any action hoping that if a Republican administration takes over in January 2017 it will be blamed for taking the nation back to war in the Middle East.

What this means in any case is that war in the Middle East will continue on its bloody course for at least another four years.

What’s more, Russia will now challenge Israel to follow through on the Israeli defense minister’s recent announcement that Israel is working with the Kurds. It is no secret that Israel is spending billions in the KRG, and in early January 2016 Russia Today (RT) News reported that the Israeli minister of justice had advocated for the Kurds to have their own state. This means that, inasmuch as the U.S. has rejected Kurdish statehood for the time being, Israel will be shouldering the main burden of helping the Kurds to achieve this goal. In assuming the role of the Kurds’ benefactor, Israel will almost certainly be pulled into a war between the Sunni states and the Kurds, which will in turn provide Iran with the breathing space it needs to pursue, unhindered, its nuclear weapons program.

Since the U.S has already informed the Kurds in Iraq and Syria that it will not support the creation of a Kurdish autonomous entity, where does this leave the Israel-U.S. relationship? Israel will have to choose between Russian aims in the region or the U.S. ability to lead in the Middle East.

Also, since the U.S. has stated that it will not support Kurdish autonomies in the region, we must ask why Kurdish allies of the U.S. are fighting so hard if everyone has realized that the creation of a “Greater Kurdistan” is neither possible nor beneficial to anyone in the region?

The answer: they are fighting because Russia wants to win. How does Russia win? The Russians know that all the nations and peoples of the Middle East—Iran, Israel, Turkey, the Sunni States, the Kurds, etc., etc.— will be crying to the U.S. for handouts and help. Meanwhile, America will be blamed for this mess as Russia sits on the sidelines watching as America’s reputation is ruined for years to come. But the U.S. will not help even with boots on the ground due to the fact that Americans will not support sacrificing more blood and treasure in the region.

This prompts the question: given the certainty of this outcome, who wants to take Mosul? Are the Iraqis and the Kurds willing to join forces and fight under the Iraqi flag? If the Kurds agree to do so, their aspirations in Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran will never be realized—which means that all that money that Israel has poured into Kurdish coffers over the years will have bought them precisely nothing.

If, however, the Kurds are not willing to support the Mosul operation, the Iraqi Army must conduct the operation without them. To be fair, the Kurds recently offered 4,000 fighters to fight with the Iraqi Army in Mosul. However, most if not all of those fighters will be Christian Assyrians employed by the Kurds. They will be joining a force composed of Sunni and Shiite elements whose fighters have little love for each other. In all likelihood these elements will end up fighting each other at the expense of driving ISIS from the city. In other words: Assyrians will be fighting and dying in Mosul under an Iraqi flag as part of lethally divided Iraqi Army to gain an objective that will not in any way help them to fulfill their own aspirations for a secure homeland in the Assyria Nineveh Plain. They will do all this because Assyrian leaders opted to take money from Iraq’s Shia-led government instead of working to create a unified Assyrian force in the Assyria Nineveh Plain.

On January 7, I stated on the Audrey Russo show that the first six months of this year will be the bloodiest months in the entire campaign against ISIS and the bloodiest of 2016 in general. Unfortunately, this is the one prediction that NEC-SE was hoping would not come true. At the end, you can blame Russia, the U.S., and Israel for choosing friends in the region whom they cannot rely on. Sadly, because the love of money is the root of all evil, these nations will still chase financial gain thinking that it will cure all their aliments. I can only hope that they will one day realize that true partners are not bought. True partners are the ones willing to go it alone in support of the efforts to bring peace to the region, and not to make themselves the region’s most powerful actors for the sole purpose of controlling its natural resources or laundering money.

? Isaiah 19:23-25

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