Turkey Reaps Bitter Harvest of Its Syria Policy


A member of the Free Syrian Army checks a bus as it drives past their checkpoint on a road between Aleppo and Turkey on Aug. 1, 2012. (photo by REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra)

By:Mohammad Noureddine posted on Friday, Oct 5, 2012

The Syrian shelling that killed five Turkish citizens inside Turkish territory cannot be deemed a dangerous development, regardless of how you view it. The falling of Syrian shells inside Turkey is not something new, and it has continuously been happening, yet often without being reported.

The incident is quite normal in the context of the battles raging between the Syrian army and the armed opposition. It is very similar to what is happening on the Syrian-Lebanese border, and sometimes on the border with Jordan. But no one can consider this incident to be food for tensions or a possible war. These kinds of things happen in all cases of military conflict.

However, the problem has become obvious. Turkey harbors a grudge, and the government of the Justice and Development (AKP) Party realizes how dangerous it will be should the impasse continue, knowing that it has plunged itself into this impasse as a result of its involvement in the internal conflict in Syria. Turkey wants to get out of this stalemate by escalating tensions until a war breaks out. However, will it succeed in doing so?

1. It is not clear whether the shelling came from the Syrian army or the Free Syrian Army (FSA). Assuming it came from the Syrian army, this does not make it a serious incident in the context of the ongoing battles. Selahattin Demirtas, chairman of the Peace and Democracy Party, had the audacity to say that the incident was a massacre that was planned, in a bid to pass the memorandum authorizing Turkey to use military force in Syria in parliament. In fact, Erdogan, for the sake of his own selfish interests — being president of the republic — is ready to do anything it takes, knowing that he had already led Turkey into an atmosphere of war, months before the memorandum was passed.

2. Turkey is reaping the results of its military involvement in Syrian affairs. As long as the FSA is freely moving from inside Turkey to Syria and vice versa, it is only normal that such incidents arise. Had Turkey not allowed and encouraged the emergence of this situation on its borders, it would not have heard a single shot, not a single refugee would have entered its territory and it would not have lost a single Lira.

3. It is deplorable and surprising that the AKP-led government takes the initiative of calling on the Turkish parliament to allow the government to use military force within Syrian territory. This is similar to when the parliament authorized the government’s memorandum regarding incursions into Iraq. Syria did not violate Turkey’s territory or the Turkish army, and the fall of an incidental shell does not require this measure.

The Turkish Parliament’s authorization of the use of force in Syria is a serious escalation, not for the time being, but for when Ankara considers that the conditions are ripe to use this card. I believe that such a memorandum — which is opposed by the Turkish opposition — is tantamount to a declaration of war on Syria. Rather, it is an act of aggression, since Syrian forces have never threatened Turkey’s sovereignty. What if the Syrian parliament did the same thing itself, taking a decision whereby Syrian forces were entitled to pursue militants who threaten its security inside Turkish territory? Doesn’t Turkey’s support for the armed Syrian opposition and the use of Turkish territory on the part of these groups justify the issuance of such a decision by the Syrian parliament?

4.  If only Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has cited both Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror and Sultan Alp Arslan, followed the example of these two (especially that of Alp Arslan, who announced his willingness to give up his life in the face of the Byzantines in 1071 AD). If only he had announced a state of alert in defense of the nine Turks who were killed by Israeli soldiers in the Freedom Flotilla incident at the end of May 2010. Back then, Erdogan did not cut diplomatic ties with Israel. Quite the opposite, Turkey’s trade with Israel began increasing by 35% each year. The Turkish parliament did not seek to issue a memorandum authorizing the government to use force against any Israeli threat. In other words, Erdogan’s government is implementing a policy whereby it is “merciful to enemies and tough on associates.”

5. We have previously said that a few bullets or shells would be enough to push Turkey to resort to NATO. As a result of this, we objected when the head of Hamas’ Political Bureau Khaled Meshaal said that Turkey, a NATO member, was a leader in the Islamic world. Erdogan should have resorted to NATO to respond to Israel’s aggression on the Marmara ship.

However, it has become widely known that Turkey is engaged in a game of political brinkmanship, hoping to lure the West, the US and NATO toward the Turkish position and toward aggression against Syria. Turkey alone would not dare attack Syria. The fact is that 60% to 90% of the Turkish public is against military intervention in Syria.

However, the Turkish exaggeration of the shelling incident in Akcakale will not be heeded by Washington or Brussels, where the headquarters of NATO are located. NATO has announced more than once that it will not intervene in Syria, and Washington is not likely to intervene either, neither before nor after the presidential election, because they take into consideration Russia and Iran’s position regarding the Syrian situation. Therefore, Turkey’s exaggeration seems inappropriate and will not achieve any results.

6. The only goal of the war memorandum — which was adopted by the Turkish parliament with a majority, and opposed by both the Republican People’s Party and the Peace and Democracy Party, in the absence of several MPs from the ruling AKP — is a timely goal related to the battle against Aleppo. In fact, the memo came following reports that the regime in Syria will send 30,000 troops to Aleppo with tanks and guns. This could settle the battle there in favor of the regime, thus leading to an expansion in regime forces along the Turkish border, a miserable defeat for the FSA which would make it lose Turkey as a base of supply. This would also make Turkey lose any material bases on the ground to transform areas of northern Syria into buffer zones or a new Benghazi.

Hence, the issuance of this memo is aimed at distracting the Syrian army from the Aleppo battle. It is also aimed at trying to save the FSA from completely losing Aleppo, and subsequently all the land adjacent to the Turkish border, thus diverting the Syrian army with Turkish threats and distracting it on more than one front.

A few days — not weeks — later, Turkish officials will find themselves still mired in the same impasse. They will find out that in order to get out of it, a radical reconsideration of their Syrian and Middle Eastern policies is in order. They will also find out that they have to stay away from illusions related to the dominance of the Ottomans and Seljuks, while recognizing that the past is gone and that the people of the empire are no longer subjects, but free and independent people. All that Turkey is doing now is collecting anything it considers to be of security or military importance in order to use it as a pretext for military intervention when the conditions of this intervention have ripened. Thus, it is making a “declaration of ill intentions” toward the future Syria. As for the parliament’s memo, it is a deferred “declaration of war.”

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