Former British diplomat Alastair Crooke sheds light on recent regional and international events in an exclusive interview with Al-Ahed News.
About Syria, do you assess that we have reached the phase where we can say Assad has won?
It is an extraordinary feat, an extraordinary outcome that Syria remains on its feet-more than that, it is recovering the sovereign area of Syria. And this is a huge outcome, something that is very important that has taken place against all odds, in the sense that everything was thrown at Syria during the war - billions of dollars, proxy wars, recruited "jihadists" from all over the globe. Everything was put into Syria in the context also of a huge information war, and they are on their feet, rebuilding their state and taking it back.
It's not just important in the sense that this particular conflict is coming gradually to an end, but it's so important because first of all it has dealt a huge blow to Wahhabism as used as a political tool to produce regime change in the area, and to those who have been financing it and sponsoring extreme Takfiri groups for this purpose. We have now a geographic contiguity that was all sliced up and divided beforehand, and is now again open. But more than that, I think that what you have is political contiguity, and I think you have energetic contiguity.
What I mean by energetic is that people have mobilized in those states; they have the will and the determination and they think alike about problems. They are not precisely aligned on every issue, but on the main issues of resistance and maintaining the sovereignty of their states all of them agree and see things in the same way. And that is a huge change. Whereas in contrast we look to the Gulf States and we find division, argument both between states and within states. And also quite visibly signs of weakness and of decline, financially and politically.
What's the Western agenda for Syria?
The Western agenda is obvious; at the moment it is to establish a little statelet in the northeastern part of Syria which will be partly Kurds. But the Americans are spending large sums of money to try and bribe. I mean the area around Raqqa and Deir ez-Zor is not Kurdish at all, they are Bedouin Arab areas primarily and the Americans are spending large sums of money - not their money probably very likely its Saudi money - to try to get the tribes and tribal leaders to go in and support the Kurds in a sort of separate American emirate. Read what the American forces there say they are trying to do. They are trying to set up little governments and they are trying to do local social work and get schools set up. And if you recall they brought the Saudi minister to Raqqa to be part of the operation for funding and providing a little model state- quite separate and quite hostile to the government in Damascus.
Is that why James Mattis and other officials have said that "we won't leave even after we end the fight against ‘ISIS'"?
Yes precisely, that's what they are referring to: that they are going to stay in that area and use this as leverage for trying to get some political solution that they would like for Syria. And to say that they are staying and trying to create a sort of "neoliberal mini-paradise" in the area which would be a model for others. When I describe what their plans are please do not understand me to say that I think that is going to succeed. I am not saying that, in fact I think the opposite. I don't believe that it makes any strategic sense for the Americans to stay in that area. And I am not even sure that they will be able to stay in that area because the Iranians have already warned them that if they do not leave they will be expelled. So they are taking a very exposed position by going into Northeastern Syria this way and trying to use it. But don't forget that it is a platform which is intended to look both ways. It's a platform for pressure on Damascus, but it's a platform clearly intended as a base for playing on the minorities in Iran and using that area, of course because there are Kurds in Iran as well as in Iraq and Syria. So they use this as a way by which they can reach out to minorities in Iran and stir them up against the central government of Iran.
What about "Israel", in light of what you said about political and territorial contiguity, how will it react to all of this?
"Israel" demanded from the outset that the borders should not be open between Iraq and Syria. They demanded a buffer on the Syrian side of the Iraqi border all the way up to the Euphrates. And the original aim then of course was to lock off the other side by taking the whole of the western side of the Euphrates so that they had a complete buffer zone and Syria would be isolated from the outside in that way. They failed to get the buffer they hoped and the border is open. And they hoped to have a direct line of logistics going from Erbil to Tal-Afar into northeastern Syria. Of course, that's no longer possible because after the collapse of Barazani's project in the region Iraq has taken control of the border crossings and Iraq is cooperating with the Syrian government to ensure that there isn't a Kurdish state set up in Syria and that the Syrian sovereignty isn't partitioned.
That's why I ask what is it that "Israel" will do because what you just described is not in its favor?
No one knows. "Israel" has a difficult choice. We shouldn't talk about "Israel"; we have to talk about elements within "Israel" because there are divided opinions within "Israel".
It has always been Netanyahu's view that Iran is about to rise up and overthrow the government (of "Israel"). The security forces and the army in "Israel" are naturally much more careful in their assessment as you'd expect about what to do. I am sure they see the relative weakness of Saudi Arabia after all these events that have taken place because of Yemen, Iraq, Syria and Beirut. All of these things they will have understood.
We are talking about a much wider theater of war, and "Israel" would have to make a very difficult decision about whether or not it could cope with that - whether it has air superiority in this expanded theatre. We don't know and I am not sure "Israel" knows whether it still has air superiority. In Syria it might not have air superiority at all because Syria does have S-300 surface-to-air missiles, as I understand, and I don't know what is in Lebanon. Iran has these weapons and Iraq has sophisticated weapons, so the calculus would be I think not easy for the "Israelis" to contemplate.
It wouldn't be a war like 2006, so I imagine that even if there are some politicians in "Israel" who would see that it's an easy victory, I don't think the security forces would share that optimism. So I think it's very difficult now. And I think it's difficult too because if they take the view that they cannot do these things, then they're taking the view that "Israel" has lost its deterrence and its ability to dominate the region militarily because of that deterrence. So it's not an easy decision.
To read Part I of the interview, click here
Source: Al-Ahed News