Turkey’s Wrong Bet on Syria

  • Today, instead of the free movement of labor and capital, there is, around the border area, the free movement of bombs and bullets.
  • Ankara considers the real security threat from Syria as not the jihadists, but the secular Kurds who fight the jihadists.
  • Turkey has worked so hard to create a “Peshawar” (Afghanistan) across its border with Syria — hoping instead to create a Muslim Brotherhood zone.

It was supposed to be Turkish gambit: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s days in power were numbered; the Nusayri (Alawite) man would be toppled by Syria’s Sunni majority in a popular revolt. The Sunni majority would set up in Damascus a Muslim Brotherhood type of regime that would be subservient to Ankara, and Turkey’s southern border with Syria would be now be a borderless Sunni “Schengen” zone; cross border trade would flourish with the free movement of labor and capital. Peace would prevail along the 900-km border, and Turkish and Syrian Sunni supremacists would advance their agenda in the not-always-so-Sunni lands of the Middle East.

Today, instead of the free movement of labor and capital, there is, around the border area, the free movement of bombs and bullets. Turkey’s miscalculated foreign policy on Syria has led to the creation of a neighboring Peshawar (Afghanistan) across its border.

Turkey’s Islamist rulers were unhappy with Assad as their neighbor. Their efforts to unseat Assad have dramatically resulted in creating even less pleasant neighbors: an unknown number of jihadist groups, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Kurdish militants fighting to create an autonomous enclave.

Once again, the Turks openly tell the world that they view the secular Kurds more of a security threat than the jihadists.

The Turkish military, generally known for its hawkish stance on the Kurdish issue, is surprisingly (and realistically) opposed to a cross-border adventure to smash the Kurdish enclave. A senior general told this author on June 25: “We have warned the government about possible costs [of such an operation]. If they give us orders for an operation, supported with perfect domestic and international legitimacy, we will act. In any case the government should be responsible for any breach of domestic or international law, and/or for the political consequences.”

This means that the Turkish government is preparing for an illegitimate military operation in Syria, although it probably will fail to initiate it for legal and logistical reasons. Against whom would the Turkish army be fighting in such a deeply contested territory? Who are its friends and foes? How would a cross-border operation be logistically supported? How would the ruling AKP party justify Turkish casualties, especially at a time when it is trying to compromise and form a coalition government after it lost its parliamentary majority for the first time since 2002 in June 7 elections?

Turkey has worked so hard to create a “Peshawar” across its border with Syria — hoping instead to create a Muslim Brotherhood zone. It has its own cross-border “Peshawar” now. It just does not know how to deal with it.

Full article: Turkey’s Wrong Bet on Syria (The Gatestone Institute)

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