The Middle East is home to more than 35 million Kurds, whose nationalist aspirations have been thwarted for over 100 years. Now, an acclaimed battlefront reporter and analyst, British -Israeli, Jonathan Spyer has received notice from the US State Department that he is under a lifetime ban for entry to the US because of his support for the Kurds. His predicament denying his ability to travel to the US for policy forums, consultations and visits to family is truly Kafkaesque. Why is the US government carrying out the demands of Turkey’s Erdogan, a sworn enemy of Kurds against Spyer?
Rod Reuven Dovid Bryant and Jerry Gordon of Israel News Talk Radio – Beyond the Matrix reached out to Jonathan Spyer to answer this question and his assessment of Turkey’s threats to normalization of relations between the Arab middle east and Israel.
Jonathan Spyer is a research fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies (JISS), a fellow at the Middle East Forum and a freelance security analyst and correspondent at IHS Janes.
Spyer is the Executive Director of the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis (MECRA). He is the author of Days of the Fall: A Reporter’s Journey in the Syria and Iraq Wars (Routledge, 2017) – an account of his field reporting in Syria and Iraq, and The Transforming Fire: the Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict, (Continuum, 2010).
Spyer’s work is published in many journals, including the Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Foreign Policy and the Wall Street Journal. He consults and advises for a wide variety of bodies in the governmental, NGO and private sectors.
The following are some takeaways from this Israel News Talk Radio- Beyond the Matrix with Jonathan Spyer.
On why Erdogan’s Turkey might have been behind the ban issued by the US.
Spyer cites as leading possible reason that the US State Department may have been influenced by Erdogan to ban his entry as a foreign nation. Spyer’s believes that Erdogan’s animus against him is due to his coverage of Kurdish nationalist interests and aspirations, especially in Syria and the Turkish dictator’s handling of domestic and foreign journalists. Spyer has nothing against the Turkish people having traveled and enjoyed his time there. It is Erdogan who has stolen the liberties of his people. He earnestly believes that the US travel ban will be rectified shortly with the assistance of informal appeals of “friends”.
On why Erdogan’s Turkey is a danger to the Region.
Spyer considers Erdogan’s Turkey as a major disruption in the Middle East fostering destabilization in the region undermining countries. He considers Erdogan’s threat second only to Iran. This is reflected in Turkish invasion of Western Iraq, the ethnic cleansing of the enclave of Kurdish enclave of Afrin in Western Syria and invasion of northeaster Syria Kurdish heartland establishing a so-called safe Zone. Erdogan is organizing Sunnis in Northwest Lebanon, he has threatened the triple alliance of Israel, Greece, and Cyprus in the Eastern Mediterranean offshore energy development thwarting building of a pipeline to Europe by arbitrarily declaring an Exclusive Economic Zone from Libya to Turkey. His alliance with Hamas and Gaza and activities in Jerusalem are a threat to Israel. Through the Turkish paramilitary contracting firm of SADAT International Defense Consultancy, Erdogan is spreading his version of Political Islam by recruiting Islamist mercenaries. SADAT is headed by his former military advisor retired Brig. Gen. Turkish General Adnan Tanriverdi. SADAT is akin to ‘green men’ of Russia’s Wagner Group and Iran’s Shiite mercenaries in Syria and Iraq. However, Speyer considers Erdogan at risk of marginalizing Turkey given that his actions have exacerbated relations with Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, and the Gulf Emirates, especially the UAE, through his espousal of the Muslim Brotherhood doctrine.
How Qatar supports Turkey’s Political Islam Muslim Brotherhood Agenda.
Spyer considers Qatar as the main financier of Erdogan’s Muslim Brotherhood agenda. The wealthy Gulf emirate is bailing out Turkey’s waning economy. Qatari money backs Turkey’s activities in the region with funding of Hamas in Gaza and the PA areas. Erdogan activities in Libya in support of the Islamist Siraj GAN government nearly triggered a war with Egypt over threats Libya’s oil producing region.
On the value of the Kurds, Israel and US actions in Syria isolating Assad.
Spyer believes the US strategy of pressure through sanctions is isolating Assad. He notes that the minimal US presence at strategic points in Syria has preserved 30 percent of the country’s oil and agricultural producing region in the country’s northeast held by Syrian Kurds. This thwarts Assad’s Iran’s and Russia’s objectives in Syria. He considers the Trump Administration “maximum pressure” campaign including sanctions an effective” low budget high yield strategy” that “weakens and chastens” Assad. He thinks the Israeli air campaign in Syria- the covert campaign between the wars has disrupted the Iranian project endeavoring to supply weapons to Hezbollah via Syria. It has forced the development of Hezbollah’s missile production recently revealed by Israel deepening Iran’s control in Lebanon.
On French President Macron’s mistaken Lebanon strategy.
Spyer considers French President strategy in Lebanon unrealistic trying to use leverage to separate Hezbollah, a major player from control of Lebanon’s government. Hezbollah is an extension of Iran’s project in Lebanon feeding off the Hezbollah Michel Aoun alliance. In the current crisis, Lebanon’s people suffer. Macron’s so-called “charm offensive” has no chances of success. Instead Spyer thinks France should follow the example of Germany’s Chancellor Merkel which has declared Hezbollah a terrorist organization rather remaining a holdout.
Iran’s Iraq project divides the Kurdish Region and seeks to oust the US presence.
After the demarche in 2017 following the failure of the KDP Barzani Independence referendum and seizure of the oil rich Kirkuk governorate by Iran-controlled Shia Iraqi militia, the Kurds are divided. The Kurdish Regional Government region is divided by the Barzani clan controlling the capital region of Irbil, the PUK Talabani clan controlling Sulaymaniyah Governorate in the east bordering Iran with the PKK based in Qandil. Spyer believes the US strategy, as recently suggested in remarks by US Secretary of State Pompeo, should consider moving our Embassy from the ‘green zone’ in Baghdad to Irbil in the Kurdish Regional Government and withdrawing main US forces from bases in Iraq, instead using Special Forces based in the Kurdish Regional Government area. Iran, he thinks is turning up its control in Iraq. This was reflected in the use of Iran-controlled Shia militia putting down protests by Iraqi Shia youths over government corruption.