Turkey is trying to outplay Russia

November 24, 2016 23:19

Reports that Turkey may be deliberately fomenting the refugee crisis in Europe , with the aim of forcing Nato and its allies to oust Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad as a way of stemming the human tide, runs against Russia's goal of bolstering the Assad regime.

According to the Turks, the refugees are fleeing from their own government's brutality; for the Russians, Daesh terrorism is the root cause of the mass migration.

Any hope that the West may soften its stance on Mr Assad and co-operate in fighting Daesh, bringing the civil war to an end - has proved false.

The truth is that both Turkey and Russia are using the refugees as pawns in their geopolitical games.

Nato member Turkey - along with its ally Qatar - has long seen Mr Assad's secular rule as an obstacle to the establishment of a fellow Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government in Damascus. Russia, though, is just as determined to keep access to the port of Tartus, which provides its only naval access to the Mediterranean.

Other splits, too, emerged this week.

For the first time, Saudi Arabia flatly denied widespread reports that it was working closely with Israel to fight Daesh - even referring publicly to the Jewish state as "the Zionist enemy".

Violence at the Al-Quds compound was the trigger for the Saudi outburst.

However, it is difficult not to believe that, like the Turks, the Saudis are rattled by the new narrative around the benefits of prolonging Mr Assad's rule.

Israel, too, is caught in an unenviable dilemma. A victory for Mr Assad would mean a permanent Iranian political presence in Syria. However, if Daesh were to triumph, Israel would be faced with the most fanatical jihadi army in modern history on its border.

The problem for those who still insist that Mr Assad should go is that they will now have to fight Moscow to get rid of him. And the political exploitation of the migrant crisis is unlikely to be a match for the Russian military.

John R Bradley is the author of four books on the Middle East

November 24, 2016 23:19

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