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Turkey's Syria question: winner or loser?

January 28, 2014 at 2:28 am

On the heels of the British parliament’s refusal to sanction a military attack on Syria, US President Barack Obama drove the issue of a possible intervention to a dead-end when he said, “I will take this to Congress”. Discussions over a possible intervention after the use of chemical weapons against civilians in Ghuta, near Damascus, have paved the way for the formation of a coalition supported by Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Turkey. As the leaders concentrated on the Syrian question at the G20 summit, a possible intervention in Syria has become the matter of the day.

However, intervention in Syria has different characteristics compared to Kosovo and Libya because it can escalate to a regional war and harbours various factors within. The effectiveness of the Islamic groups and chemical weapons depots create security threats and jeopardise the future of Syria. A coalition of the type formed in Libya could not be formed in Syria in two and a half years. The country that faces the biggest test with regards to Syria is Turkey with which it shares the longest border. Refugee camps set up by Turkey along the border, the Syrian regime’s downing a Turkish F-4 jet and the deaths of 50 Turkish citizens in the town of Reyhanlı diminish Turkey’s credibility.

Afraid of the “Pakistanisation” of its border with Syria, Turkey does not want to have difficulties in the Syrian crisis similar to those that were experienced with the Kurdistan Autonomous Region in Iraq for years. The vulnerability of the opponents in Syria and their failure to project a single united front has contributed to the formation of different groups in northern Syria. In this particular region, one of the biggest troubles for Turkey is a possible encounter between the Democratic Union Party (PYD) and Al-Qaeda. The Ankara administration, blaming the Kurds for betraying the revolution in Syria at the beginning, repeats decisively that it will not tolerate the spread of the fire to Turkey. Separatist Kurds in Syria listen to neither the Northern Iraq Administration nor Turkey.

There are plenty of entities in the international community who by disseminating the propaganda that “Turkey supports Al-Nusra Front” try to misrepresent Turkey’s position from one of being with the Fee Syrian Army to one of “supporting radical Islamist groups”. Among these are figures with some authority in the PYD. The party stood up against the massacre claim in Rojava and claimed that Bashar Al-Assad did not organise the chemical attacks.

At this turning point, the attitude of Russia and Iran are important. In the Syrian crisis, Iran is out of the range of the White House administration. The same America which is ready to take on Iran when Israel’s security is at stake tried bilateral discussions at the G20 summit.

The possible fallout, chemical and otherwise, from an armed intervention in Syria threatens not only Assad but also other countries in the region. For this reason, the impasse over Syria carries big risks. Involvement in any attack on Syria will be a high price to pay for governments with disaffected minorities as it could put them on a collision course which ends up with an escalating crisis between Israel and Iran.

As such, Turkey does not want to provide military support for the Syrian question in the face of a threat of a regional war. Ankara has backed off from restoring links with Israel which were severed in the wake of the Mavi Marmara attack in 2010. Besides, Turkey has no intention of organising a military operation in another Muslim country. The Turkish Armed Forces are involved in operations for peaceful purposes only which means that Turkey would probably provide logistical support and bases but not troops or aircraft for an attack on Syria.

Iran has drawn “red lines” over Syria but it is likely to stop at strong words. Instead, if an armed intervention does take place, Iran will probably unleash Lebanon’s Hezbollah against Israel. The Zionist state is preparing itself for such an attack.

The post-Assad period is unpredictable for the White House, so its tactic is to make all the parties join the Geneva talks, even though the US reserves for itself the right to carry out a “pin-point” operation in Syria.

Where does Turkey stand on this? Is at the forefront of the Syrian issue? This is a question which is on the agenda in Ankara. The Justice and Development Party government speaks up about massacres around the world which places it on the side of what is right. The result is that ordinary Arab citizens think highly of Turkey, something that the government in Ankara encourages for regional reasons.

The “Virtuous Power” policy introduced by President Abdullah Gül, set out from the renowned Muslim philosopher Al Farabi’s “virtuous society”, is a Turkish foreign policy doctrine. It is realistic and not too utopian and is respected around the world.

As far as Syria is concerned, Turkey has been at the vanguard of the world’s humanitarian and political response; it has warned the Assad regime repeatedly about the massacres it has committed. Having opened up to the Russia-Iran supported external intervention and where the international community, the US included, does not want to get involved, Syria is plagued with civil war. There are no winners in this war but Turkey is not a loser.

The writer is an Oped Columnist for Todays Zaman newspaper based in Istanbul, Turkey. He can be followed on Twitter here

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.