Iran is eyeing a strategic partnership with the Kurds
The ongoing political realignment in the region is throwing up some surprising potential partnerships.
In a meeting held last week, Hamas' Khaled Meshal presented Muslim Brotherhood leader Muhammad Badie with a plan to end Hamas' armed operations within a year, reported the Egyptian weekly Ruz al-Yusuf. The details of the plan were not specified; however Egyptian sources believe that the plan represents Hamas' willingness to announce an arms reduction (in exchange for an Israeli assurance to cease its actions against Hamas ), disengagement from extreme Salafis operating in Sinai, and a gradual transformation of Hamas to a political movement, exclusive of a military wing.
According to the report, what surprised the Brotherhood's leader was Meshal's request that Egypt would ask the U.S. to pressure Israel to release 220 Hamas prisoners, handing over a list of their names to his host.
Meshal had also offered detailed information regarding the deployment of the Syrian army - information which he said could "determine the outcome of the campaign." Badia promised to contact the U.S. administration using a member of the Brotherhood's global leadership.
The fighting in Syria shines its spotlight on new players. Defector Manaf Tlass, for example, the Syrian general whose looks are more suited to starring in a Hollywood movie than leading a revolution, is running between Turkey, Saudi Arabia and France to gather support. Tlass wants to be the next acting prime minister of Syria and says that Saudi Arabia and Turkey, whose foreign minister he met last week, both see him as a fitting candidate.
In a different arena, Meshal, who abandoned Syria a few months ago, is still searching for a new step-family to adopt Hamas. During his "surprise" meeting with Badie, according to Ruz al-Yusuf, Meshal offered critical information about the deployment of the Syrian army "that could determine the outcome of the fighting," on condition that Israel releases the 220 Hamas prisoners.
Meshal sought to transfer the information to the U.S. via the Muslim Brotherhood leader who, according to Ruz al-Yusuf, has already begun to conduct negotiations with the Americans. Other reports from Egypt say that Meshal even offered President Mohamed Morsi help in fighting terror in Sinai.
Will the Syrian crisis change Meshal and Hamas' international standing? Meshal is not merely making do with visits to Egypt. Last week he met with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for five hours. No information has yet been leaked, but the Iranian ally has been searching for new partners lately and Turkey is likely to be the broker between Hamas and the U.S. government.
After all is said and done, if the U.S. is willing to cooperate with the Muslim Brotherhood president of Egypt, it can also benefit from conditional recognition of Hamas, which could damage Iran's field of influence.
The Iranians are not blind to such a scenario, and despite statements of unlimited support for Assad, they seek alternatives for the era following his downfall. Their focus of interest and activity is now on the Kurdish region of Iraq, which could serve as the link between Iran and the Kurdish minority in Syria and a way to wield influence on the Syria that emerges in the future.
The leadership of the Kurdish region of Iraq, headed by its president, Massoud Barzani, is conducting a fight against what it calls Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki's "dictatorial behavior." Maliki has the support of Iran. There is also a political struggle underway between Barzani and Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. Talabani, who is also close to the Iranian leadership, recently sabotaged Barzani's intention to oust Maliki, while Barzani, who is closer to Turkey, continues to try to change the structure of control in Iraqi.
Paradoxically, however, Barzani has angered the Turks by revealing in an interview with Al Jazeera that Syrian Kurdish rebels are training in Kurdistan and returning to Syria in order to fight the Assad regime. While Turkey supports the fight against Assad, it is worried that an armed and trained Kurdish minority is likely to establish an independent Kurdish regime in Syria similar the one in Iraq, and that it would be led by the Kurdistan Worker's Party, the PKK, against which Turkey is fighting an all-out war.
Today Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu was to visit Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region, in order to make clear to Barzani that Turkey will not agree to the establishment of an independent Kurdish region or broaden the PKK's field of operation as a result of military aid to the Kurdish rebels in Syria. The visit follows on Erdogan's threat, made on the eve of his visit to the London Olympics, that "Turkey views it as its natural right to intervene in Syria if it enables the operation of terrorist activities that threaten to impinge on Turkey's security."
The Kurds' internal struggles and the disagreement between them and Turkey grants Iran an opportunity to play a new political game. Last week it invited Talabani's deputy Barham Saleh to Tehran along with Nawshirwan Mustafa, leader of the Kurdish Movement for Change, which was founded in 2009 in opposition to Talabani's leadership and in order to examine the possibility of striking an alliance with the Kurdish opposition. The Iranians think, it seems, that such an alliance could serve not only as a connection to the Kurdish minority in Syria, which has played a significant part in the struggle against Assad, but also as a means of deterrence and even a threat to Turkey, whose relations with Iran have taken place against the background of Turkey's policies against Assad.
Iran, which is not sure how much longer it can depend on Talabani because of his advanced age and ill health, wants to ensure that the Kurdish element on the Iraqi political scene continues to support the Maliki government and Iran's position in Iraq.
And so, while hundreds of Syrians are paying with their lives every day in the fighting in Aleppo and Damascus, the ones to make the strategic alliances after the fall of Assad are likely to be the new stars on stage.