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“The Caesar Act – Washington Pours on More Sanctions Against Syria; Shifting Tides of War from Syria To Libya.” – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. Tuesday, June 23, 2020. Transcript. Part Two

July 2, 2020

African migrants in Tripoli, Libya… many have been imprisoned and sold as slaves, a result of the instability in the country since the U.S. sponsored NATO led invasion to overthrow Muammar Khadaffi in 2011.

“The Caesar Act – Washington Pours on More Sanctions Against Syria; Shifting Tides of War from Syria To Libya.”KGNU 1390 AM, 88.5 FM – Hemispheres, Middle East Dialogues with Ibrahim Kazerooni and Rob Prince. Tuesday, June 23, 2020.  Hosted by Jim Nelson. Transcript.

KGNU Hemispheres – June 30, 2020 – Transcript…Part Two (Part One)

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I think we discussed this four or five years ago (on this program) concerning the aim of Tayyib Erdogan. He wants to re-establish a kind of new Ottoman empire, or at least Ottoman-like influence throughout the Middle East and North Africa, that influence that they lost from around 1920 onward till today.

So whether it’s instability and war in Iraq, instability in Syria or any crisis, Erdogan sees a role for Turkey to fish from muddy water to economically and politically in order to expand Turkish influence.

Ibrahim Kazerooni

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Rob Prince: Having said that, Ibrahim, what is going on in Idlib Province at the moment? It looks as if a major military offensive is in the offing and then it stops. The Turks continue to put a lot of military material and troops in there.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: It’s a good question Rob.

To give some backdrop to where we are now… If you remember three or four months ago when the Syrians (government troops) were pushing north and Putin and Erdogan met in Moscow. They came up with an agreement that Turkey had no other alternative but to accept which is something that they had previously resisted. Russia insisted that the major highways from Aleppo to Damascus and other places had to be opened. The Turkish backed mercenaries had to withdraw to seven miles away from the M-5 and M-4 highways.

Recently I have been noticing that sharp infighting has broken out between various leaders among the different mercenary organizations.

Rob Prince: I read of armed conflicts among them today.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Yes, between two or three of them. Julani, in charge of Jebat al-Nasra and Abu Malik Atalli and Abu Saleh al Uzbeki – these are among those who fled southern Syria and parts of Lebanon. Hezbollah had captured their territory and pushed them out. They had to negotiate a transit deal with the Syrian government who permitted them to withdraw to Idlib.

Now Jebat al-Nasra under Julani’s leadership has moved militarily against the other two major factions and captured their leaders in an effort to subdue them. This is a clear indication that these mercenary groups are anticipating a major operation on the part of the Syrian government to take place.

Why did Julani make these moves now? He wants to be the sole interlocker with Turkey to negotiate the fate of the mercenaries. He thinks this consolidated approach can lead to a better deal for Turkey rather than two or three groups negotiating on their own.

In light of what is happening now in Idlib – remember what we discussed here several months ago – the reason that Turkey is unwilling to accept the “resolution of the Idlib situation” (ie withdrawal of all mercenary and Turkish forces from there), allowing the Syria government to take control of the region is because it (Turkey) fears the influx of around 120,000 mercenaries and terrorist literally pushed in the small Idlib enclave from spilling into southeastern Turkey. The Turkish government is doing everything in its power, not to allow them to enter Turkish territory until Erdogan finds another way out for them. So he is stalling any major change in Idlib’s status.

Recently in the case of Libya..there were Syrian mercenaries captured in Sudan en route to Libya. This clearly indicated that Turkey has established a corridor between Idlib and Libya as a way to remove some of these terrorists from Idlib and sending them far afield. On the one hand it has strengthened the hand of Turkey in Libya because now it has a growing cadre of well trained mercenary fighters among its ranks that it supported in Syria. Now they are under Turkey’s command in Libya.

But what is quite clear here for Turkey is that the reduction of its mercenary allies in Idlib Province, the weaker the position it has there when the final confrontation with the Syrian government takes place. The Syrian army has used all occasions (the different truces) to strengthen its military position. They are “ready to ponce.”

Turkey knows, that having withdrawn 40-50,000 mercenaries and terrorists out of Idlib to Libya (and to Yemen), they are in a weaker position militarily because their mercenary forces are fewer in number. In this situation, either they have to capitulate or send in more of their own troops.

You mention Rob, the sizable direct deployment of Turkish troops into Idlib Province (to compensate for the mercenary forces re-deployed in Libya) and this is the case. If a military confrontation does take place in Idlib, it will be directly between Syria and to a decisive degree, Turkish troops. If that happens, then we have to wait and see where Russia positions itself visavis this relationship.

If you remember last time, Russia sided with the Syrian government and allowed the Syrian government air force to bomb Turkish forces, Turkish artillery and Turkish positions (inside Idlib, Syrian territory).

There is a different issue here that I need to expand upon and talk about and that is the role of Libya in the overall Middle East tensions.

If you remember in 2011, 2012, once the so-called uprising against the Syrian government began, it was the mercenaries from Libya that were shipped either to Lebanon or Turkey and with the weapons provided to them by the C.I.A. and everyone else that they entered Syria with the intention of overthrowing the Assad government.

Rob Prince: In fact, it was in the midst of all that, Ibrahim, in 2012, that the U.S. Ambassador to Libya, Stephens, was killed. What came out later that he was involved in transferring a shipment of mercenaries from Libya to Syria.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: The U.S. ambassador was killed because of the dispute over the amount of money and weapons should be transferred at the time, to Syria. The C.I.A. at that time indicated that the Obama Administration covertly supplied these mercenary elements with at least $1 billion in cash along with a huge weapons cache. C.I.A. agents and U.S. Special Forces served as boots on the ground, training opposition fighters how to use sophisticated new weapons in both Syria as well as in Libya.

Now the situation has reversed. Turkey has gotten involved in Libya.

But I wonder if you want to add anything in the case of Idlib, before we move on to something else?

Rob Prince: Just briefly.

My sense about Trump is that – at least through the November 2020 presidential elections that he does not want to provoke a full scaled war against Syria – something the Israelis and Saudis would like Washington very much to do.

But there are those – the neo-cons – Bolton, Pompeo and the like – who are pushing him towards war.

Trump’s main problem: he doesn’t know what to do anymore about Iran and Syria. And so he wants to put that situation on hold, and I’m pretty sure he wants to do that until after the election. Should he win again – and I’m sorry to say that my sober assessment is that the election is still up in the air – then all bets are off about how he might proceed militarily in the region visavis Iran and Syria in the Middle East. So all of a sudden the Administration’s focus has shifted to efforts to overthrow the Madero government in Venezuela.

So that is what is going on.

Again, keep in mind that we’re dealing with such a fluid and unstable situation – whether it’s about Syria, Libya or both.

Jim Nelson: Concerning Venezuela, Trump has said that he’d be willing to meet with Madero.

Ibrahim Kazerooni: Jim if you read the bits and pieces of “this guy’s memoir” (John Bolton’s) that has just appeared, it appears that in 2016 that there was such a possibility of a meeting between President Trump and Iranian Foreign Affairs Minister, Mohammad Jawad Zarif – either at the United Nations or somewhere else but such a meeting was cancelled after pressure from Bolton and Pompeo. The problem is when you have a president who, in essence, does not have the authority to make such a decision, where the decisions are made by other people, his degree of maneuverability is constricted.

We also saw this during the Bush Administration when it was Vice President Cheney who had the power while George W. Bush was just a symbol, a figurehead, with no genuine authority. It worked the same way during the Obama Administration and now it is the same with Trump. What a president says and what his Administration does, these are totally different things.

Rob Prince: Ibrahim, I have a question for you concerning the tensions between Russia and Turkey, sometimes allies, sometimes opponents in this fluid geopolitical situation in the Middle East. It appears that Russia wants to have good relations with Turkey if it can. However what happened in Syria was such a threat to Russian national interests that Moscow felt obliged to come in and support the Assad government.

These tensions between Russia and Syria – it’s a very uneasy friendship. At times their interests have merged, but at this moment in time it seems that the two of them are headed in vastly different directions, not just over Syria but now particularly over Libya.

What is about Libya that Russia and Syria find themselves at odds about in essence?

Ibrahim Kazerooni: It’s an excellent question. To understand that really first we have to understand the Russian goal in the region. What are they aiming for?

Through a number of comments that Putin has made, he sees a much bigger role for Russia in world affairs than it has had since the collapse of the USSR, particularly at this moment with the United States in turmoil, in a process of decreasing influence and prestige, Putin thinks that collaborating with China that Russia can make a substantial impact on world affairs economically and politically but in a “different direction” from which the United States has been pushing the world to.

The aim and the goal of Russian foreign policy is to establish a stable environment or areas of influence in the adjoining regions.

For Russia, as long as there is war there is tension and it will not be able to expand economically, politically and militarily in a manner that they can challenge U.S. hegemony and create a “tri-polar world” with China and Russia on one side and the United States on the other..

Russia has expressed its concern with regard to Iraq, Syria; now it’s expressing its concern with regard to North Africa because eventually Russia sees for itself a role in North Africa as a result of the turmoil that has unfolded there.

So that is the Russian approach, broadly speaking to Russian interests in Libya.

On the other hand, Rob I think we discussed this four or five years ago (on this program) concerning the aim of Tayyib Erdogan. He wants to re-establish a kind of new Ottoman empire, or at least Ottoman-like influence throughout the Middle East and North Africa, that influence that they lost from around 1920 onward till today.

So whether it’s instability and war in Iraq, instability in Syria or any crisis, Erdogan sees a role for Turkey to fish from muddy water to economically and politically in order to expand Turkish influence.

Rob Prince: Ibrahim, I’d like to add something here concerning the Turkish-Russian tension over Libya. It has to do with natural gas – natural gas and oil, a very large deposit of natural gas off the coast of Libya. Turkey wants to be able to dominate that production and that is one of its reasons for its move into Libya.

The United States doesn’t mind.

If Turkey is able to consolidate its position in Libya that actual gas flows coming from Russia (to Europe) can be bypassed.

End Part Two.

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