Are Syrian Kurds the Key to Defeating ISIS?
JNS.org – What steps can the West take to defeat the Islamic State? According to leading experts, the US and Israel should work to push the Syrian Kurds away from the Iran-Shia axis and Russia, and toward an alliance with the Western world.
“The US and Israel could win Rojava [the Kurdish region of Syria] as a loyal Western satellite if they are willing to guarantee its sovereignty and sign a defense agreement,” said Joshua Landis, a Syria expert and director of the Center for Middle East Studies at the University of Oklahoma. Rojava is also commonly known as Western Kurdistan or Syrian Kurdistan.
“But [the US and Israel] must be willing to escalate their defense of the Kurds against possible Turkish, Iranian, Syrian and Russian attacks,” he said. Yet currently, he argues, the US and Israel do not value the self-governing regions of Syria as a real priority. “This was the same problem that the Syrian-Sunni rebels faced,” he explained, noting that Western nations instead prioritized keeping Turkey as an ally and pivoting to East Asia.
Landis’ comments come as Chagai Tzuriel, the director general of Israel’s Intelligence Ministry, told Reuters that Russia and other world powers should work to curb Iran’s growing military presence in Syria. Meanwhile, the US military is likely to send up to 1,000 additional ground troops to Syria as part of a future offensive in the Islamic State-occupied city of Raqqa, according to the Washington Post. Raqqa serves as ISIS’ Syrian headquarters.
Turkey wants to send its own troops into Raqqa, but is unlikely to do so given its unwillingness to cooperate with the People’s Protection Units (YPG), a Kurdish militia that the Turks view as supportive of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Some people call the PKK a terrorist organization; it has been at war with Turkey for decades. Reuters reported that the YPG plans on expanding to more than 100,000 troops, from its current level of about 60,000.
But it isn’t only Israel and the US who seek greater influence with the Kurds. As Reuters also reported this week, Russia is moving to train Kurdish fighters in northwestern Syria in what YPG spokesman Redur Xelil called “the first [agreement] of its kind.”
Dr. Sherkoh Abbas, president of the Kurdistan National Assembly of Syria (KNAS) umbrella organization, told JNS.org that he has shared his ideas about the region with Trump administration officials. Abbas said that he urged Trump officials to implement safe zones in Syria, and told Trump staffers that the Kurds are more reliable allies than other resistance fighters in Syria.
Abbas said that his organization has been trying to recruit a delegation of Syrian Kurds to visit the West ,or even Israel, for meetings in order to forge an alliance. Regarding Israeli support for Syrian Kurds, he said that Israel “is reluctant because of Iran-PYD connections and its efforts to remain on good terms with the Arabs and Turks.”
Yet Abbas argued that the US and Israel should prioritize supporting the Kurds, because they could help break up the Iran-Hezbollah land corridor that stretches from Iran to Lebanon, and now reaches Israel’s borders.
“The Kurds,” he said, “are the natural allies for America and Israel.”