The NBC report that Russian President Vladimir Putin may be considering making President Donald Trump the “gift” of turning over former NSA analyst Edward Snowden is part of a much broader scheme that is already sending tremors through the Middle East. Snowden won asylum in Moscow after leaking secrets to journalists four years ago. The Trump administration appears to have leaked the rumor about the US leaker, seen by some Americans as a whistleblower, as a trial balloon in the secret give-and-take maneuvers afoot between the two presidents and a third, Turkey’s Reccep Tayyip Erdogan, over a trilateral pact for leading the war to eradicate ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
When Trump talked on the phone to Erdogan last Tuesday, Feb. 7, he was told that America’s extradition of Turkish opposition leader Fatullah Gulen was a sine qua non for any deal. Erdogan has accused Gulen, who lives in exile in America, of orchestrating the failed military coup against him last July and the plot for his assassination. Gulen denies he had any hand in the coup.
Erdogan made it clear to the US president that if he wants Turkey as a partner for fighting terror, Gulen’s party, whose FETO party he insists is a terror organization, must be included in that heading
Trump promised to examine Turkey’s Gulen dossier, which would have to stand up in a US court as sufficient grounds for extradition. Four days later, on Friday, Feb. 10, the new CIA Director Mike Pompeo arrived in Ankara on his first foreign trip, to discuss plans for cooperation in Syria. He was also handed the Gulen dossier.
The Trump administration then extendied this trade-off by a bid to gain the extradition from Moscow of Edward Snowden, whom the president has called a "spy" and a "traitor." This would count as a gesture by Putin for promoting the three-way pact for their joint Middle East ventures.
From Ankara, the CIA director continued to Riyadh to see about harnessing the Saudis to those ventures.
Trump was deadly serious when he vowed that “The United States will swiftly and completely destroy the Islamic State – ISIS.” He is proposing to embark on a herculean task that calls for a coalition of several armies and whose consequences are unforeseen. When George W. Bush set out to destroy Al Qaeda in Iraq 11 years ago, he never imagined he was creating fertile soil for the rise of the equally menacing Islamic State. Therefore, the mission to destroy ISIS can’t stop there. The combatants must be ready to sustain a massive long-term military presence in the Middle East to make sure that a new bane does not raise its head.
Trump has also set his would-be partners a stiff price for their pact. It was signaled by the news report that his administration is contemplating branding Iran’s Revolutionary Guards Corps and its intelligence and operational arm, Al Qods, a terrorist organization.
In addition to their combined war on ISIS, the US president is adamantly demanding that his designated allies come together to rid Syria, Iraq and Yemen of Iran’s military presence. This would require the overwhelming military presence in the Middle East of the combined might of the US, Russia, Turkish, Saudi and Egyptian armies.
His goal is to knock the Islamic Republic off its pedestal as the leading Middle East power set up by Barack Obama and his secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, in eight years of strenuous diplomacy and the outlay of hundreds of billions of dollars.
Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu will therefore be bursting through an open door if he tries delivering a lengthy harangue to Trump on the threats posed by Iran and Hizballah when he begins a visit to Washington on Wednesday, Feb. 15. He would do better to ignore the counsels of the pundits and advisers at home who have not yet caught up with the new president in the White House, or grasped the scale of the earthquake Trump and Putin are preparing for the entire region.
Netanyahu will find the US president fully conversant with the Iranian threat to Israel. But he will also need to understand that there is a new way of doing business in Washington:
1. Trump sets his own order of priorities and will not be swayed by Israel.
2. He will always demand a quid pro quo for his cooperation.
3. He will get straight down to brass tacks, namely, a direct question: What are Israel and the IDF prepared to contribute to his prime objective of destroying the Islamic State?
The prime minister will no doubt reply that Israel already contributes intelligence and other forms of assistance to the international war on Islamist terror. However, he will almost certainly find that this does not satisfy his host, who will ask for more direct Israeli military involvement in the campaign against ISIS. Trump will point to the precedent of 2006, when Israeli special operations officers and soldiers took part in the fighting in Iraq.
Since the president intends for Saudi, Emirates and Egyptian troops to join his campaign against ISIS, he envisages their armies fighting shoulder to shoulder with the IDFand so providing an opening for diplomacy that will lead to an Israeli-Arab peace accord.
Trump is holding in abeyance for a number of weeks his decision about transferring the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Meanwhile, he will expect to come to terms with Netanyahu on a US-Israel formula for the future of Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, just as the late Ariel Sharon struck a deal with Bush.
The flood of reports claiming the US President has already decided against the embassy move to Jerusalem are unfounded and the work of pre-Trump elements.