JERUSALEM – President Trump’s December 19th announcement to pull US troops out of northern Syria sent the Middle East into a tailspin. Suddenly major regional powers Russia, Turkey, Iran and the Syrian regime scrambled to seize the initiative and fill whatever vacuum America left in its wake. But in the center of this geo-political scrum sits millions of Kurds, as many as one hundred thousand Christians and perhaps the only island of sanity and stability in the Middle East outside of Israel.
This region, known as the Democratic Federation of Northern Syria (DFNS) spent years driving ISIS from much of northeastern Syria and provided a semblance of security, democracy and religious freedom to members of all faiths under their umbrella. One analyst described the DFNS as “The very kind of regime we (the US) once fantasized we could set up in Iraq. But we didn’t set it up. It created itself, then sought the U.S. as an ally. It did the lion’s share of the fighting against the butchers of ISIS who still target Americans. That’s the kind of ally you want, so you can exert smart leverage on a region.”
The presence of 2000 American soldiers flying the US flag provided an invaluable additional buffer against the surrounding nations to the DFNS. But according to voices from that area, all this could be threatened by Trump’s decision even if Sunday’s White House meeting between US Senator Lindsey Graham and President Trump seemed to slow down the pace of the pullout. These voices fear the regional actors have already read the writing on the wall and are pursuing their own agendas.
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Perhaps the number one change already on the ground is the presence of Syrian troops near the pivotal northern Syrian city of Manjib. Manjib sits at the crossroads of the area and has been the base for many of the US troops. According to sources familiar with the DFNS, they invited Syrian troops lest Turkish troops who were massing military equipment on the border seize the city. More ominous have been reports Erdogan has enlisted thousands of jihadists with Al Qaeda like resumes to fight the Kurds. One Twitter posting purported to show one such jihadist taking out his knife and saying “We are coming for you Kurds.”
In March of 2018, these kinds of conscripts were used by Erdogan to ethnically cleanse the northwestern Syrian town of Afrin during the ironically named “Operation Olive Branch.” During that operation, thousands of Kurds and Christians fled for their lives. Now the DFNS fears another even greater ethnic cleansing could be on the horizon.
CBN News has learned the DFNS feels they are facing two potential scenarios, each one that could have devastating results.
The first scenario would be fighting Turkey, a NATO force and suffer the same fate as Afrin leading to the potential end of the DFNS, ethnic cleansing along with thousands of refugees, many of them Christians. The second scenario could be to broker a deal with Russia and the Assad regime to keep Turkey at bay. However, this means not only the end of the DFNS but also Iran would take a giant step closer to its dream of a land bridge from Tehran to the Mediterranean in order to threaten Israel. Some observers believe the Russians and the Assad regime are bullying the DFNS into a bad deal – a deal they need to accept within days – or they will allow Turkey to invade by early January.
In either scenario, about one hundred thousand Christians are caught in the crossfire. In addition, one suspected deal between Turkey and the US would establish a 35 kilometer (about 22 miles) along the border between Turkey and northern Syria. Most of the Christian villages lay in this area.
MECRA, the Middle East Center for Reporting and Analysis concluded the “Kurds now appear to have been a toy in this game as new tensions threaten to flare up.” They also believe “It appears most likely that the withdrawal of US troops will reduce US costs. It will create a vacuum of effective forces, and Iran, Turkey and the Syrian regime as well as the armed opposition will seek to fill that vacuum.”
Meanwhile, day by day and even by hour the major players in the region are jockeying for position. On December 20th, the day after Trump’s announcement Iran’s President went to Ankara. On December 29th, Turkey senT a high-level delegation to Moscow and on December 30th Iran held talks with Syria about greater “economic cooperation.” In the meantime, the New York Times reported the President will take 4 months, not thirty days to withdraw US forces.
The next significant meeting won’t be taking place in the region but thousands of miles away in Brazil. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on New Year’s Day in Brasilia followed by another meeting with US National Security Advisor John Bolton next Sunday in Jerusalem. Presumably, they will be discussing the dangers to Israel, US interests in the region and how to douse the aroused geopolitical ambitions of Turkey, Russia, Iran and Syria.
The stakes are high and this January 1st meeting might portend if 2019 will be a happy one for millions of Kurds, thousands of Christians and the Middle East.
Because Proverbs 21:1 says, “The heart of the king is like a stream in the Hand of the Lord. He turns it wherever He will” many Christians will be praying this New Year for US President Donald Trump to reconsider a decision many believe will have profound consequences for the world.