Tuesday, September 6, 2011
Turkey, Syria And The Prospects Of War
By Abdulghani Ali Yahya
Anyone observing the current Syrian state of affairs would consider Turkey’s deep concern for the situation there as its major international priority. In an unfamiliarly explicit tone, Turkish officials said "What is happening in Syria is an internal affair of Turkey, because of the 850-km-long border it shares with Syria." The above comments are the most aggressive statements issued by Turkey so far, and they almost breach the principle of non-intervention, along the lines of Francois Mitterrand's "Necessary Interference" concept, created 20 years ago, which legitimized intervention in some cases. Mitterrand's principle was put into effect when a no-fly zone was imposed on part of Iraqi Kurdistan, with the aim of protecting the Iraqi Kurds against the Saddam Hussein regime in 1991. The difference between [Mitterand’s] violation of non-intervention, and Turkey’s potential violation of the international principle, is that Mitterrand did so with the aim of winning rights for the Kurds. On the other hand, Turkey’s comments suggest that, for the Turks, Syria is a back garden or a part of the internal Turkish situation. Since the 9th August 2011, the world has been eagerly anticipating the consequences of Turkey’s comments, believed by the Turks to be decisive, and conveyed to Syrian leaders by the Turkish Foreign Minister. One can also infer the decisive nature of Turkey’s stance with regards to Erdogan's recent statement about Syria, when he said " We have been very patient until now, waiting to see whether we can fix this, whether they will listen to what we have been saying. But our patience has run out”.
We can further deduce the implied contents of Turkey’s message by referring to the statement issued by Ahmet Davutoğlu, the second most powerful man in the Turkish state, who said "we cannot remain silent anymore about what is happening in Syria, and about the dear blood being shed there. He also added that if Turkey were to choose, it would choose to side with people of Syria, not the regime.
Thus, these statements suggest that a Turkish military invasion of Syria is highly probable, either with or without a mandate from the Security Council. Such speculation has been consolidated by the series of meetings which Erdogan has held, and continues to hold, with Turkish security leaders specializing in foreign security affairs. Hence, based on multiple evidence and presumptions, it is apparent that the relations between Ankara and Damascus have passed the point of no return, and that war is highly probable, particularly as Turkey claims that it "cannot remain silent anymore", and thus would feel huge embarrassment if it did nothing. The image of Turkey retracting its position towards Israel - when the latter denied the passage of the Turkish freedom flotilla which was carrying aid to Gaza - is still vivid in the memory. Here, Turkey experienced humiliation and fell into disgrace as a result of the deaths [of nine Turks abroad the ship] at the hands of the Israeli army. At that time, Erdogan warned Israel of the consequences of continuing to test "Turkish patience." Yet Israel continued to remain hostile whilst Turkey seethed with frustration and disappointment. However, this time, Turkey’s patience is being tested once more, which may culminate with the military invasion of Syria. Twelve years ago, Turkey threatened to invade Syria and mounted pressure on the Syrian leadership to force it to expel [Abdullah] Ogalan, but the invasion did not materialize as Syria submitted to the pressure. However, the situation between the two countries now is different from twelve years ago, especially when taking into consideration the tense relations between them, which have now passed the point of no return.
For Turkey, there are many reasons to launch an attack on Syria. One reason is that the anticipated Turkish strike against Syria would be acceptable to both the Arab and the Islamic world, to some extent, as a result of Turkish policies that advocate Palestinian rights, and the great regard which Arabs and Muslims have for Turkey as a result of such policies. Aside from this, the Syrian opposition and refugees have taken refuge in Turkey, rather than any other country. This could be because the Syrian opposition has an overwhelmingly Islamic orientation, and has established strong links with Erdogan's party.
Without a doubt, if Turkey's next step is war, this will not happen without the West giving it the green light. The West was quick to announce that NATO would not be pushed into a war against Syria, as happened in Libya, Afghanistan and Iraq, where it met, and continues to meet, strong objections. This tarnished the image of the West, especially the US, in the eyes of the Arab nations and the bulk of Muslim nations. Yet Turkish military intervention in Syria, whether directly or indirectly, would effectively be NATO intervention, as Turkey is an active member of the alliance and its ground forces are NATO's second strongest after the US.
Due to these reasons, one could confidently assert that a Turkish military operation against Syria, if carried out, would only take a matter of days before the Syrian regime fell. There are similarities between the Syrian regime and the previous ruling system in Iraq, which was toppled at a record speed. The Turkish military forces are far superior to Syria’s, let alone the fact that the Syrian popular revolution has managed to withstand the regime throughout the recent period, and has managed to draw the world's attention. One should not overlook the fact that the Syrian regime, by all criteria, is weaker than the previous Iraqi regime, and the current Libyan one.
As everyone knows, Turkey has a considerable interest in attacking Syria due to their multiple trade and economic engagements. Besides, the rise of a free democratic regime in Syria, under which ethnic, religious and ideological sects could enjoy their rights, would be of great concern to Turkey. This is especially because the Kurds - who constitute the second largest group in Syria – would be distanced from Turkish influence and agendas. One would be mistaken to think that the fall of the al-Assad regime will only harm Iran, for it will harm Turkey and Israel as well. The latter has come to realise that the Syrian regime has in fact served its interests, and thanks to that regime, the Israeli-Syrian border has enjoyed notable stability.
The probable Turkish intervention in Syrian affairs is not alone in the international history of unilateral military interventions. For example, India intervened militarily to liberate Bangladesh (Eastern Pakistan) in 1972. In the 1980s', the Vietnamese troops overthrew the China-adherent Pol Pot government in Cambodia. We have learned from experience that unilateral military intervention carried out by countries other than the two super powers - the US and the former Soviet Union – are less agitating to public opinion, and more successful in accomplishing targets, than military operations carried out by either of these two powers. Nevertheless, intervention by countries other than the two superpowers must always be preceded by the green light.
Today however, in a world dominated by only one power, Washington would definitely give the green light, without which it is impossible to intervene. The best example of that is what happened to Saddam Hussein and his regime, when he occupied Kuwait without prior permission from the decision makers, most notably the US. Thus, this is how events will transpire, unless further developments emerge to intersect with this "decisive" Turkish message, and the even "more decisive" Syrian rhetoric. In any case, the Syrian regime is approaching its end.
This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 05/09/2011