Keep your friends close, but your trading enemies closer?


Sohould you trade with your enemies? Cast your mind back just two years and you will no doubt remember the torrent of articles penned by Western journalists jetting into Turkey who had a field day over the so-called “million dollar” trade between those in Turkey and their counterparts from Daesh who were selling cheap diesel, of all things. The editorial line was “surely this shows that the [Recep Tayyip] Erdoğan administration is supporting Daesh as it allows money to flow into its coffers… same goes for letting Daesh buy household, everyday goods that its fighters need”.

But it turned out to be a flawed argument as more recently we saw Turkey launch joint airstrikes with the Russian air force of Daesh positions – amid a clamor of journalists who still can’t quite grasp the concept that Turkey’s war in Syria is not on just one front but two; it needs to pound both Daesh and Kurdish terrorist positions, a task made even more complicated given that these two groups have also both fought one another.

The war in Syria is anything but polarized. It’s complicated. But isn’t the task of journalists to demystify and boil down the facts of complicated issues for the greater public, in the name of sustaining democratic principles?

Apparently not. Once again we see Washington seeking to distract the attention of the few people in society who still read newspapers with fake news. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the sale of oil by Daesh to the Assad government and managed to delude the reader into thinking that honor among thieves was indicative of a working relationship, which no doubt its readers would note and conclude only one thing left to conclude: Assad must go.

Keep your friends close, but your trading enemies closer?

Was this timed nicely to precede the Russian-brokered peace talks in Kazakhstan, to breathe new life into the old precondition that slayed previous peace talks, where rebels had held out for regime change. Probably. But the same journal doesn’t point out that a great many other “regimes” also buy Daesh oil, even Israel, but no one is suggesting Netanyahu should be toppled or anything quite so preposterous.

It’s naive and willfully ignorant that countries or militant, extremist groups at war with one another don’t trade valuable commodities. The terrorists badly need cash right now and the Assad government desperately needs both oil and gas. And given that neither the EU nor the U.S. are willing to stop sale of Daesh oil – which it could so easily do but chooses not to – one would have thought that the very least its spoon-fed media would avoid the incendiary subject. Unless of course State Department aficionados are surreptitiously planting stories with a bigger agenda at play.

One of the most staggering things about the U.S. bombing campaign, or indeed the Arab “coalition” one, is the remarkable, almost surreal lack of conviction of those commanding the operations to actually hit Daesh where it hurts the most and surely kill off the serpent entirely: by destroying its illegal oil business.

True, some oil operations were hit. But not in great numbers. Have you ever wondered why?

My own take is that both the Gulf Arabs and the Americans were happy that Daesh was selling cheap oil to Israel and others, rather than letting those oil fields fall back into the Assad government’s hands. And wanted the stream of rickety old tankers and in some cases modified trucks, to continue to meander their way to the Iraqi Turkey border as each one was a drain on Assad’s capital.

Recent leaked comments about John Kerry saying that the Obama administration waited to see if Daesh would topple the Assad government are telling.

But the trick with letting Daesh keep the oil has failed to glean any capital and has backfired spectacularly as no one in the Obama administration nor indeed in those Gulf countries, could have ever imagined that Russia would step in do a better job at hitting Daesh and weakening the so-called “moderate” opposition.

I’m seriously wondering though whether even Russia wants to destroy Daesh entirely though. For one, it has also showed a lack of interest in destroying the oil plants, which farcically still function in many areas under Daesh control. It’s as though nearly all of the main players in the Syrian war have a vested interest in keeping Daesh alive but quarantined in the north eastern corner of Syria – as for it to break up and disband would mean many foreign fighters looking for a new jhadist war and Putin’s worry is that many would head toward Russia or Chechnya. Perhaps I’m too skeptical, but a demonic voice inside of me tells me that the West, along with Russia and Israel and Saudi Arabia are still biding their time in the war in Syria, hoping that when the moderate opposition are defeated, there will be a concentration of fighting from Daesh against the Assad regime that we have yet to see. Is this what everyone is really waiting for while Kerry and Assad talk positively about the scheduled peace talks?

* Martin Jay recently won the U.N.’s prestigious Elizabeth Neuffer Memorial Prize (UNCA) in New York, for his journalism work in the Middle East. He is based in Beirut.