Murat Yetkin


What a day! Here what has happened on Dec 19, 2018 in approximate chronological order:
• The Wall Street Journal reported that Saudi-Israeli backchannel rapprochement took a hit after two officials close to the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman were suspended from office because of their involvement in the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the country’s consulate building in Istanbul.
• The U.S. State department approved a possible sale of Patriot air defence system to Turkey. When the U.S. President Donald Trump had objected to Turkey’s decision to purchase Russian made S-400 system, Turkish President Tayyip Erdoğan had said that it was because Americans don’t sell Patriots to Turkey.
• The WSJ reported that Trump could withdraw the U.S. forces from Syria and this was started to be told to its partners there, which means the affiliates of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). President Erdoğan has stated that Turkey could launch another operation into Syria, this time the American controlled northeast if Trump would not withdraw the PKK affiliate forces. Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said in the Parliament hat Turkey was determined not to tolerate a de facto PKK controlled Kurdish region along its Syria border.
• The Pentagon denied the report and said the Central Command (CENTCOM) troops would stay in Syria in cooperation with the PKK affiliate groups to finish off ISIS. It sounded like the Pentagon challenging the White House in protection of the PKK affiliate groups against their NATO ally Turkey.
• Moscow said that the American decision to allow Patriot purchase would not affect Russian sale of S-400s to Turkey. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has said earlier that Ankara had a formula not to harm the NATO air defence with S-400s. The most possible formula is to buy them both but not to turn S-400s on. Çavuşoğlu had said over the weekend that if Bashar al-Assad would be elected through a democratic election Turkey could consider working with him; a position which is close to American and Russian stances.
• Trump said in his Twitter account that ISIS (Deash) was “defeated” and the American troops will start leaving Syria soon. That was an overruling of the Pentagon stance and also a move to avoid an unnecessary confrontation between Turkish and U.S. troops. U.S. Secretary State Mike Pompeo called up Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu to officially tell Turks about the U.S. decision as Ruters reported that the withdrawal could be completed in 60-100 days, ie before the local elections in Turkey on March 31.
• Addressing Bilkent University students in the second anniversary of the assassination of his predecessor Andrey Karlov, Russian Ambassador Aleksey Yerkhov said that when cooperated, Turkey and Russia could form an invincible power in the region.
You can connect the dots to find the shape. The shape would absolutely depress the PKK and possibly not please Israel and Saudi Arabia; two countries which have their priority as pushing back Iran. It would take the Syria burden off the shoulders of the U.S. with possible criticism that they were once again abandoning the Kurds after using them, if it is possible at all to consider PKK as the sole representtatives of the Kurds. The interesting point in this was the British committment to stay in Syria with the PKK affiliated groups, without explaining how that would be possible without a military presence amid Brexit process. That could lead two results: PKK could change sides from Americans to Assad regime, as their former protector. Or the PKK can abolish itself to reappear in a less intolerable form, perhaps by abandoning the “armed struggle” to prepare itself for another round of political initiative by the Turkish government, and of course with a possible new Syrian government as well.
Nevertheless, Trump’s decision is a game changer for Syria and the Middle East inspired by Erdoğan’s persistence.


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