Kobane: many interests, one fate PDF Print E-mail

Ksenia SvetlovaUntil recently Kobane, a small town of not more than 50 000 inhabitants, most of them Kurds, was just another name on the map. But after three weeks of siege and fierce battles between Kurdish fighters and Islamic State militants, Kobane will probably be forever remembered as another of the world’s moral failures.

“As horrific as it is to watch in real time what is happening in Kobane, you have to step back and understand the strategic objective,” US secretary of State John Kerry said, explaining that “notwithstanding the crisis in Kobane, the original targets of our efforts have been the command and control centers, the infrastructure.” These words, which sound cold-hearted and frightening to other minorities in the region, characterize US policy on Syria. After all, the it didn’t interfere with mass murders in the towns of Homs, Daraa or Eastern Guta, either.

So, while Kerry, as well as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and others sit back and evaluate the strategic objectives of the campaign against IS, the Islamists pour more forces into Kobane and bombard the city. In fact, while all the regional players – IS, the Kurds, Iran, Iraq, Syria and Turkey – realize the importance of Kobane to the fate of the region and to their respective states, none seem too concerned about a possible massacre of the remaining residents.

Turkey: Considering that Erdogan played a substantial role in strengthening IS, allowing the smuggling of contraband weapons and foreign fighters through the Turkish-Syrian borders, he now seems to have adjusted to the idea of having a new neighbor. Given that the Kurdish forces in Syria have strong connections to the PKK, Erdogan could well prefer that Kobane fall to the IS, thus disrupting the Kurdish continuum between Efrin, Kobane and the Jazira area. Turkish inaction could also be the result of an understanding that IS will pose a greater danger to Bashar Assad’s regime than the weaker Kurdish brigades.

On the other hand, a victorious and significant force on the border is the last thing Turkey wants. This is why Erdogan continues to demand the impossible: the creation of a buffer zone in Syria and a promise to topple Assad’s regime as down payment for Kobane’s rescue.

The Kurds: Losing Kobane, in addition to having its residents slaughtered, would mean losing the connection between Syria’s two Kurdish-populated enclaves in Efrin and Jazira, an end of the access to the water resources of the Tishrin dam and problematic access to the Turkish border. The Syrian Kurds established their own autonomous rule after government forces left more than two years ago, but the lack of funds to develop a defense system and the economy had led to heavy reliance on Iraqi Kurds, who are now dealing with their own IS threat. So the leaders of the Syrian Kurds feel helpless and abandoned, despite the US and Jordanian air raids on IS forces. What irony – losing the city while having the world’s strongest army by their side.

Iran: Kurds might not be Iran’s best friends, despite the latest improvement of relations between Kurdistan’s regime and Tehran, but IS is most definitely the greater evil, as far as Iran is concerned. An op-ed in the conservative Khabar online called on General Qassem Soleimani of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards to intervene in order to prevent the capture of Kobane by IS.

Soleimani is believed to be heavily involved in the Syrian civil war with his Quds forces and Hezbollah units assisting the Syrian army.

Syria: If anyone should be assisting the Kurds in defending Kobane and pushing back the Islamists it’s President Bashar Assad. But for now, he seems to prefer the sidelines, perhaps because of the diminished capacity of his military after 3.5 years of civil war.

Islamic State: The group’s ferocious attack on Kobane testify to the importance its leaders attach to the town. With the whole world watching the IS advancement, despite the American fire power, a victory in Kobane is even more important, proof to supporters of Abu-Bakr al-Baghdadi that “the force is with him” and that “Allah grants victory to the believers.” Kobane’s capture will also give the group full control of the border area and several strategic motorways once controlled by the Kurds. The remaining two Kurdish enclaves will be separated from one another, and the capture of the areas now controlled by the FSA (Free Syrian Area) might well become possible.

Barring some dramatic development, such as an offensive by Turkish troops or American special units, Kobane’s fate seems sealed.

Ksenia Svetlova is an Arab affairs analyst for Israel's Russian-language Channel 9 and a fellow at "Mitvim", the Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies.



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